For Websites, Amateur Effort can be a really Bad Idea

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It’s possible that your life might yet be complete without having, or having had, a serious romantic relationship with a travel agent, but you’d certainly be missing out on a great opportunity for gaining a tremendous appreciation for subtlety and cynicism.

I know nice, brilliant girls who specialize in molecular biology, physics or information technology — but I also learned that some nice, brilliant girls choose non-nerdy careers, yet approach these with tremendous finesse and insight, going so far above and beyond that it’s difficult for clients, customers or the buying public to even begin to appreciate all the subtleties involved.

So nowadays, when I see a nice girl excel in a field that I wouldn’t normally use as a synonym for brain surgery or rocket science, perhaps it’s because she’s brilliant and doing things so well that she has left the competition far behind, on sheer merit.

The particular girl mentioned in today’s article contacted me yesterday, and thus inspired today’s article. She is the most savvy travel agent whom I can imagine to exist.  She’s the girl on the windsurfer. I took the picture from my own windsurfer, somewhere inland of the reef, in Waikiki Bay,  perhaps 15 years ago.

She is, and was, my travel agent before, during and after our ten-year-long romance. We spent New Year’s Eve of 1999-becoming-2000 in front of the fireplace, thinking and talking about life, and what we wanted to experience in the next century. One of her concerns was that the Web was helping people buy into the misconception that booking one’s own travel is as simple as pulling up a Web page, entering some data and clicking a button. Mechanically, that was indeed true, and many people had started to book their own travel as such, but the problem was that they were unaware of the many subtleties that a good travel agent would manage.

Much as I enjoyed booking my travel arrangement using with this girl’s professional services as such, it was much more fun when she also went along. For ten happy years, she did. Not just was she a delightful traveling companion, but she also would point nuances out to me as she was observing them; things that I, and probably most people, would have completely overlooked.

For example, initially I didn’t understand the complex set of business rules underlying flights or hotel rooms being overbooked, but nowadays I do. I’m vastly more empowered as to avoiding this situation, or in dealing with it well, if it happens.  This girl has also guided me as to identifying situations when I can reasonably go ahead and make my own bookings, because I’m by now well aware of the subtleties relevant to simple arrangements.

Much as I enjoyed getting the benefit of this girl’s travel agent insights, I also enjoyed seeing her do her magic to the benefit of others. In one example, two medical doctors had fallen in love and were getting married, and had booked a very expensive honeymoon. It included flying to Maui, staying at (literally) the Ritz and so on. Thank goodness they had booked the package through her. The best-deal and most-convenient-for-them flight, on which she’d booked them, was with a reputable airline (United) and even so, that flight ended up being overbooked. One of the couple contacted the travel agent from the gate at the airport, and it was wonderful to see how she explained the issues to this doctor, including the politics and the psychological subtleties, including who the decision makers were and how to deal with the problem so as to get the desired outcome — in this case it being that, whatever happened, the two doctors would be on that flight to Hawaii. If someone was going to get bumped to a later flight, it wouldn’t be them. As extra reassurance, the travel agent also offered to keep the hotel apprised of developments.

Things worked out as if a master chess player had controlled the events, and all was well. The couple made the flight, had no worries about the hotel even though the flight had been delayed, and they were most grateful.

I saw, and experienced, many more examples. If I kept going with them, this essay could become a book.

I can imagine that if the couple had booked their own travel, they might have chosen that same flight, the one that ended up being overbooked. Without the additional insight and guidance from a very savvy travel agent, what was intended to be a nice vacation could have become a miserable experience for them.

In the same way as this girl’s travel agency has been handling my travel arrangements for the last twenty years or so, I’ve also been hosting and maintaining her travel agency website, for twenty years or so. She recently emailed me and announced a few changes she’d like to have made, and she reminded me that if it’s a bother then she’d be open to remaking her own website on a free, do-it-yourself platform.

My reply to her was that I’d be happy to make whatever changes she needed made to her travel website, and that I would strongly urge her to avoid making her own website, for parallel reasons why people who book their own travel are missing out.

One of the vendors who offers a free, do-it-yourself platform pitches their service or product on the premise that it’s easy to make one’s own website. Indeed it is, in the same way as it’s easy to cut and style one’s own hair, book one’s own travel … and really, if all we’re focusing on is the mechanical action, then why stop there? For that matter people can do their own dental work, and even surgery too, plus certainly auto repair, spaying or neutering one’s pet and so on.

Even though we live in history’s most sophisticated example of a division-of-labor economy, it’s fair to say that its benefits are underappreciated. Many people seem to totally overlook the point that specialization tends to endow people with additional insights and productivity, including an appreciation for subtlety which most amateur effort overlooks.

Being able to do things mechanically — that’s the least of what makes things work, as the Soviets found out just about a hundred years ago, after they fired, killed or imprisoned the smart people and then watched productivity and morale plummet.

There’s a time and place for amateur effort, and it can be fun. Also, many careers and new ventures have started that way — including mine. I’m all for being gung-ho and exercising some initiative. Regardless, subtleties abound, they will either be handled or they will exact their toll.

When it comes to websites, the main issue to which I object is when the vendor of a free, do-it-yourself platform implies that there are no subtleties. I’ve been managing a professional-grade website company for the last 20 years or so … and I can assure you that this particular field of endeavor is rife with subtleties.

When a free, do-it-yourself platform encourages the clueless to dive in with amateur effort as if subtleties don’t even need to be considered, then it lowers the general standard of such things to, well, the sort of result one might expect from amateur effort — and it also creates the perception that websites are trivial to make in every respect. As such, it becomes much harder for skilled people to make money in the business, because so many potential clients have heard “you can just do it yourself.” Yes, you can — but that doesn’t mean it’s prudent.

Anyway, the travel agent girl has a long history of going above and beyond, and thinking beyond the obvious. So do I. On that premise I would love to keep maintaining and hosting her website, with professional-grade effort.

Proust Questionnaire, Question 2

This is a quote from an article from one of my favorite websites:

A century before today’s popular personality quizzes, Victorian “confession albums” served essentially the same role, presenting a series of simple questions designed to reveal the respondent’s sensibility and aspirations. In the 1880s, teenage Marcel Proust was given one such questionnaire by his friend Antoinette, the daughter of France’s then-president, which he promptly answered. The original manuscript, titled “by Marcel Proust himself,” lay dormant for decades, until it was discovered in 1924, two years after the writer’s death. Half a century later, French television host Bernard Pivot resurrected the questionnaire as a backbone for his literary interviews. In 1993, Vanity Fair transplanted the tradition to the last page of the magazine, which began featuring various public figures’ answers to the Proust Questionnaire.

And so, today, i started answering the questionnaire. It is taking me a long, long time — not least because I want to revise my answers shortly after formulating them. And so, this questionnaire has become a very helpful introspective tool.

I started with “What is your greatest fear?” Well, that one seemed easy enough. Something I figured would be the worst imaginable thing for me, personally, was clearly the answer to that — not least because I’d experienced that horror in the past, in one variation, so I would never, ever, want to … wait. I handled it well enough to survive it well enough the last time, and then afterward I processed the emotional chagrin that had been a consequence. To my amazement, the horrible scenario I’d been dreading for decades … it evaporated to something no more unpleasant than paying a speeding ticket. If I landed in that sort of situation again, and I handled it very badly then I’d end up in a very bad place, but I knew how to manage my way out of the situation, and last time I did, and next time (if there is a next time) I’ll handle it better yet. That said, by now I am so risk-aware that I’d probably be able to recognize the situation from a long way off, and preempt it.

Wow. That was so surprising – delightful but anticlimactic. It was like having nightmares about a space monster and then meeting it, vanquishing it but not killing or hurting it, and then making it an adoring pet. I almost felt cheated, in a weird way.

Okay, well, no problem. I had a long list of fears. I’ll simply go with the next one on the list. The next was … wait. That next fear had almost happened too — me, going blind. To me, it had seemed so terrifying at the time. My eyesight was clouding over due to a condition called “young person’s cataracts” and by no stretch of the imagination did I have money or insurance to do anything about it. So I simply and gradually was going blind. Then, one fine day, the financial problem was solved surprisingly and quickly, and here I am with clear vision again. Not that I hope to ever go blind again, or anything close to that, but I’d processed that possibility last time, and I’d handled facing it mentally, so if it does one day happen, I could handle it emotionally. Wow.

And so, down the list of “my fears” I went, choosing the worst one and then … seeing it evaporate under scrutiny. Wow. it’s now an hour later and I still haven’t answered the question. Every time I try, I find myself admitting that such a situation would be highly unpleasant — but that doesn’t mean I fear it. I’d try to avoid it if I can, and if not, I’d deal with it.

The ultimate fear to me, metaphysically, is the anticipation of my own non-existence, as in my own death. I continue to find it abhorrent — but it’s something that I know must happen. I can postpone it and make the best of the time I have, and I am diligently doing both. So, does that make it a fear? Probably not. I don’t think so, anyway.

I’ve also thought through situations where I might choose between betraying my own core values in so-called exchange for getting to live a little longer. Even before today, I have thought through how to respond to such situations. Would I be afraid? No, due to how I dealt with a watered-down version of such situations in the past.

I’m still thinking about the question, still looking for trouble, so to speak. So far, nothing — but wow, how freeing an experience this has been, in terms of emotional housekeeping.

 

Nerds who Choose Sex, Drugs or Rock ‘n Roll – or Junkyards

Whenever I go visit my mom, we watch one more episode of the TV series called Breaking Bad. I’ve watched it before but it’s her first time, and she is intrigued. As for me, I’m pondering the issues and drawing some parallels.

The central figure in that story is a chemistry nerd. He’s sweet, detail-oriented, and brilliant. He has a keen sense of justice. He’s vastly savvy as to the subject matter (chemistry). He lives a conservative lifestyle until he realizes that a related sub-culture of chemistry, as in making illegal drugs, is generally run by people with a fraction of his insight and precision. Were he to compete in that market, he’d run rings around the competition by being more precise, more methodical, better-informed and more intelligent. Indeed, he does….

It’s an interesting story, but more so for me personally because I did something similar albeit in a different field. I also notice that several intriguing-to-me girls each did something similar, in different fields of endeavor. That’s what inspired this article…

For me, an important point is that the chemist in the TV series doesn’t just master the chemistry involved in becoming, essentially, a drug lord. He also learns how the culture works, and he learns it masterfully well until he’s more effective and more respected that anyone around. Even so, he never blends into that culture. It’s a learned role that he chooses to play, and he does so very well but he doesn’t naturally belong there — even after learning how it works. His mind works differently than those of the typical people in that sub-culture. Relative to them, he’s a misfit and he knows it, even though he’s highly esteemed and dazzlingly successful.

I relate to feeling like a misfit. It started when I was in school, but I didn’t have to go seek out a drug culture for that. Simply based on the typical kids around me, I felt alien. The feeling was mutual. Nobody explicitly asked me which planet I was from, but they might as well have. I was academically successful, but socially I was clueless, and overly trusting. I was called naïve and they intended it as an insult though I consider it a compliment. Even so, I learned quickly.

Among other places, I went to school in Oxford, England. I recall an incident when I was 10. My mom had shown up to pick me up after school and walk me home, and right in front of her, one of the other 10-year-olds had waited until just the optimal moment when a car was rapidly approaching, and he shoved me into the path of the oncoming car. Although I’d appeared to just be chatting with my mom, I’d anticipated he’d do this so I was ready, and I sidestepped him just-right, and so I was able to recover and duck back out of the way quickly since he’d been able to apply only a fraction of the force he’d intended. Not just did he fail, but he failed publicly and this made him lose status and become less brazen. He was generally feared yet whenever we played soccer, even though I had a tiny stature relative to him, I liked to attack him aggressively. I sometimes prevailed, taking control of the ball away from him, in public. This all helped him become wary enough of me that I survived.

My mom was aghast. She had a hard time processing it. I recall thinking how sweet it was that she was so innocently unaware of the harsh realities of my life. I assured her that this sort of thing was nothing to be concerned about, and that things like this happened as a matter of routine, and I had diligently learned how to deal with these situations. I’d learned the culture well. I couldn’t relate to it intuitively but I nevertheless understood it as a mathematical model of sorts.

Not that I have Aspergers but I do relate to that mindset to some extent, as well as the accompanying techniques of learning a culture explicitly. Two of the most academically brilliant girls I know have been officially diagnosed with Aspergers, and they’re each in their 30s. By now, they have learned how social dynamics work, and they are each as socially suave and charming as I’ve ever seen a person be, in interaction with typical people. However, once each girl knew me and trusted me, she explained that this was 100% learned behavior, not something she would naturally know how to do, since she doesn’t naturally think like typical people do. As such, I relate.

And so it was that, at age 19, I dove into junkyard culture. I already understood automobiles. I knew the history, models and specifications of almost every brand around, plus many from markets half a planet away, and/or that had become defunct. Much of the time I could identify an engine from its sound as it was starting, or as the car was driving by. I understood automotive mechanical and electrical systems, and I’d been driving since I was eight. Others talked about an Alfa Romeo two-liter engine. By contrast, I knew that, more precisely, it was a 1962 cc engine, not 2000cc. I was a walking encyclopedia as to automobiles. Most strangely, I didn’t think this was all that unusual.

At age 19, I drove a car that needed occasional repairs. I couldn’t afford new parts. So, I spent a fair amount of time at junkyards, buying used parts. It occurred to me that whoever was running these junkyards wasn’t doing so with much precision, yet the places appeared to be profitable. Then and now, I enjoy being clean; at the time the backs of my hands were red and raw from how often I washed them. I was not a natural fit with junkyard culture. In fact, at the time I was in the process of getting my University degree majoring in Accounting and Auditing, with minors in Commercial Law and Tax Law, plus I’d taken engineering-level Math simply because I love the subject.

Even so, I understood the automotive field well, and junkyard culture wasn’t too much of a detour. So, in a decision that now seems starkly parallel to that of the chemist in the TV series, I decided I could run rings around the folks who ran junkyards the traditional way. Soon, I had my own little junkyard. It was highly specialized, with more than a dozen cars parked in the back lot of my cousin’s ranch, and with used parts cleaned and identified in cardboard boxes all over my rented three-bedroom house, focused on just one make and model and using a computerized inventory system I’d created from scratch.

My plan worked, and the business did well. It now feels like a thousand years later, and I’ve scaled up. I’m now half a world away, and I don’t own a junkyard but I do make high-volume deals with junkyards. I manage a small used-car-parts empire, very precisely and with clean, well-identified used parts in cardboard boxes all over my rented three-bedroom apartment plus several other locations besides, all focused on just a few makes and models and using a computerized inventory system that my staff and I had created from scratch.

It’s not just the technical aspect that I learned. By now, I understand junkyard culture really well. When I show up it’s almost as it it’s a royal visit, and I get offered deals and special benefits that, I have observed, other people simply don’t get. I’m sincerely nice but as to learning that culture, it didn’t come naturally. I consciously learned it. I also know that I don’t belong there, so much as I enjoy occasional visits, I prefer to be back in my clean, white, precise warehouse with rows and rows of bins and boxes of precisely tracked parts.

So, that covers the nerd mindset diving into, respectively, drug manufacturing (as in the TV story) and junkyards (me). That leaves two more aspects: sex and rock ‘n roll.

The next nerd I am analyzing for this story is a girl whose mind is vastly complex and detailed. She has an intense sense of justice, and she’s sweet — also academically brilliant. She’s currently working on her PhD in Sociology. In a way that to me seems parallel to the two examples so far, she has chosen to focus on sex work and she seems to be doing that with commendable precision and success. The sex work culture, I can safely say, isn’t a field of endeavor where everyone is thinking with a high degree of precision. As a result, my friend is, as far as I can tell, head and shoulders above much of her competition.

She doesn’t strike me as a natural fit, but she does so well that I’m guessing that her path has many similarities to those of the above two examples. My PhD-student friend is, ironically, not the only example of a highly cerebral nerd girl choosing sex work culture in a brothel, and then learning it so well that she excels. Two of my other nerd girl friends did the same thing. One girl did so well that she’s by now a minor legend. The other girl literally ended up running the place. Even so, each of these three girls better fits the nerd profile than the profile of a typical sex worker. Each of these three girls is highly intelligent, very precise, and has a keen sense of justice. For each of them, her cultural level of functioning, when she’s away from sex work, suggests to me that her ability to flourish in sex work culture might well be learned behavior.

Perhaps we should add me to that list, too. A few years ago, I flew to Europe and applied to work at a legal brothel for a while. My first self-imposed task was to go talk to the other girls, to learn the culture. I learned well and quickly.

So, that covers the subject of sex work. That leaves one more subject: rock ‘n roll.

The next nerd girl on whom I’m focusing was, from a young age, proficient at playing the guitar. She was savvy about music in general but her career was headed toward the more formal arts, such as dance and ballet. Then, as a young adult, it occurred to her that the field of rock ‘n roll music provided an interesting opportunity. With inspired aplomb, she embraced it, and she has been rocking the house ever since, and had done so with an uncanny level of success, for several decades.

The band she’d cofounded ended up with multiple worldwide hits, including multiple number one hits. Her personal popularity and appeal were such that one of her biggest career problems was professionally being fawned upon more than the other girls in the band, to the point where she was often considered to be the lead singer even though she, and they, were adamant that she was not.

This is already enough of a success story to earn her a place in this article, but there’s much more yet.

Rock stars are known for hard and fast living, with the health issues that one might expect as a consequence. By contrast, this girl exemplified clean living and ethical behavior, while nevertheless charming vast amounts of audiences for literally decades beyond the point where most rock ‘n roll stars have long since faded from the spotlight and from public consciousness.

Not just is she acclaimed on stage, then and now, but as her interviews make apparent, she also has a vast encyclopedic knowledge of song lyrics, bands, singers, songwriters, music industry gurus, concerts and venues. To call her brilliant would be an understatement. Even so, her skills are not just focused on music. She steadily learned the relevant culture, such as how to deal with a hostile audience that threw chewing gum and other objects at her head while she was performing on stage. She learned on-stage culture so well that she has been charming audiences ever since.

However, she also learned how to deal with music industry culture in general. One of her stories involves how she wooed a local DJ into being a key figure in helping her band toward populairty. Record industry execs were simultaneously pushing her band as well as pushing her toward a solo career.

As one example of her effect on a fan: someone whom I met in Las Vegas last year had flown to the US from half a world away, to attend her 2016 concert series, and he’d attended it every night, spanning perhaps a week all in all. He left little doubt in my mind as to how enthused he is about her, as the main performing artist he’d come to see.

Personally, I find this nerd girl, as in: the actual person as far as I can discern her, to be deeply intriguing. I assumed this went without saying but even so, at some point in the conversation, I asked the gentleman if he shared such enthusiasm for learning about the real person behind the public persona. Nope, he replied: he was happy to focus on her simply as a stage persona on whom to fawn.

A friend of mine, a good guy though not a complex person, is a professional guitar teacher locally. At some point, a him-and-I conversation turned toward rock stars. It’s safe to say that there are hundreds of artists in rock ‘n roll but this guy focused on just one– the brilliant nerd girl described above. My friend went on and on about her, completely unprompted and unaware that, although in a very different way, I could think of much good to say about her, too.

From what I gather based on what she’s written and said, such as during interviews, she exemplifies the nerd girl profile. Even so, she learned to deal with the cultural issues so brilliantly that her success in the field might well be described as peerless. Yet, she doesn’t seem to be a natural fit with the culture. She seems to enjoy the occasional foray into the spotlight and then withdraws again into privacy. I happen to be fascinated by the sort of mind that has figured all this out, but regardless of my own personal enthusiasm, if one were to come up with some objective metrics for spectacular rock star career success, I figure that this girl would rate stratospherically high.

Bottom line: nerds rule. If a nerd chooses a field of endeavor normally devoid of nerds, the competition might well have to contend itself with hoping for, at best, a silver medal.

A Terrified Brunette Reaches Out Nevertheless, Part 7

The brunette put on her make-up, thinking of the blonde, and her strange dynamic with the blonde. Looking in the mirror, she observed how these thoughts inspired the glow of a smile, and how much the smile changed her look. It was not the smile she normally used with strangers; her smile in the mirror had a very different quality. Even though she normally disliked her own look, she liked her new look more, with that smile. She wondered if there would be more of that smile in her future.

She decided she’d put on enough make-up to reach the tipping point where she felt as good about her look as she was likely to. She added some finishing touches and considered her make-up to be completed. She didn’t feel pretty but she felt prettier than she’d felt … she realized … in years. She used to pride herself on looking as good as possible — and then she’d lost inspiration.

Things had changed dramatically after that. In so many ways, so much of what she’d previously cared about passionately … it didn’t matter any more. Letting go had involved an intellectual aspect as well as an emotional aspect. The latter had been much harder.

Standing in front of the mirror, she thought of the lyrics of a song, about things not mattering any more. It was a song about hopelessness, yet not giving up on the concept of love — just giving up on a particular person. Even so, at the time, those two actions had seemed synonymous to her.

She realized how much progress she’d made, recovering from feeling so deeply hurt, by being unappreciated after trying so hard for so long, to make things work with that other person. Before giving up, her energy and her zest for life had seemed boundless, but then the emotional pain had torn these to shreds. For several years she had survived at a bare-minimum subsistence level, emotionally. She had bravely dragged herself onward, through the difficult hours of difficult days, feeling ever more exhausted, yet trying to keep going. It had been like trying to move forward while encumbered with a far-too-heavy burden. Those times had been deep and dark.

She thought about the song lyrics some more. They also mentioned finding somebody new. It had taken several years, but it had finally happened. To be precise, it wasn’t that she’d found someone — instead, someone had found her.

She felt a tinge of pride at having overcome that pain, and more — at feeling hopeful again. The new arrival in her life had inspired that hope. Pondering all this, she felt more and more ridiculous about feeling hopeful. Even so, she did not allow this negative emotion to overwhelm her. Instead, she applied a technique that the blonde had taught her: she made a point of identifying and acknowledging the negative feeling, instead of trying to dismiss or ignore it. “I feel ridiculous about feeling hopeful,” she said out loud. She repeated it slowly, a few times more. Somehow, after that, she still felt hopeful but the feeling of ridiculousness had diminished.

She loved how empowering this new technique was. She always loved how comforting it was when the blonde validated the feelings of the brunette. This technique was similar, though the validation in this case was self-validation.

She collected her thoughts, and focused on the practical task of getting ready to leave, to go see the blonde.

Did it matter what kind of underwear she wore? — she wondered … not that she owned anything that she’d classify as inspiringly sexy. She chose at random. She wondered if that might change soon, too. She felt ridiculous at that thought, too but … not just ridiculous. She noticed a faint glimmer of “perhaps” that had survived the wave of negative emotion that had just washed over her. Perhaps what? — she confronted herself. She consciously and deliberately thought about it: Perhaps it does matter. Perhaps it’s not too late.

Next, she chose a dress. She considered a dress that she normally would hesitate to wear, because it was too elegant for day-to-day wear … yet it had the offsetting attraction of being comfortable. She chose it, and some high heels.

When dressed, she took another look at the mirror. The girl in the mirror contrasted starkly with the way she looked, day to day. She kept looking, critically. She didn’t like what she saw, but she could at least see why the blonde perhaps still might. That was good enough, for now.

She noticed that she still had that strange, glowing smile. She pondered that contrast, too. Normally her smile was like the flash of a camera. Today’s smile, instead, was more like the way the eastern sky looked before a sunrise. Perhaps a sunrise was a good symbol for her life from now on.

She thought about her future, and realized how, until recently, she’d thought of her life as better befitting a sunset rather than a sunrise. People she’d known, loved and looked up to had passed. When would it be her turn? Not for a long time, ideally, was her immediate thought – and yet some of the people who’d passed had been young — as young as she was, far too young to have passed away. For some of them, she realized by reading between the lines of their life story, that the root cause had been a deep sadness, and the secondary cause had been the effects of their coping mechanisms.

She stood there pensively, her smile fading. She felt a rising tide of panic, perhaps too much to face head-on. She called the blonde immediately and told her what she was feeling and thinking, especially how afraid she was of dying before — by her own standards — she’d ever really lived.

“That shadow is not for you — not for a very long time,” the blonde gently replied. ”You have SO much living to do yet. You really have yet to begin. For so much of your life, you’ve been trying to accommodate others, trying to play by their rules. It’s your turn now, to live by your rules, and be truly happy.”

“You’ve said that before, but I still wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

“That’s where I come in. I think in similar ways you do, and we can talk about it until, together, we find ways that work for you.”

“I don’t know … it all feels so futile.”

“I understand … and yet, imagine that Beethoven had played piano just briefly and then never again. That would have been a travesty, yes?

“Yes …”

“You’re an artist. How much of your work has been intensely focused on romance, love, sexuality, intimacy, relationships, passion?”

“A lot …“

“Most of it?”

“Yes …”

“Almost all of it?”

“Well, yes.”

“You’re passionate about passion. True?”

“Yes, but it all feels so … so … ridiculous now.”

“I understand that’s how you feel … even so, let’s grade the passion in your art.”

“How?”

“Probably, factors to use would be how much art you’ve created on that theme, and over how long a period of time. That’s a fair choice of metrics, yes?”

“Well, I suppose. Yes.”

“So, on that premise, I’d give you a least an A+” the blonde announced, and continued: “As to the amount of romance, love, sexuality, intimacy, relationships and passion in your life, would you say that this gets an A+ too?”

The brunette was silent for several long seconds. “No,” she replied, somberly.

“So, there’s a gap to be closed.”

The brunette realized that the blonde was understating things, gently and intentionally. She appreciated that, and then said so.

The blonde acknowledged that, and continued: “As to feeling ridiculous, I used to feel the same way about myself. There was much I wanted to do, and I felt it was too late for me.”

“And then?”

“I decided to go for it anyway. I felt ridiculous and I continued nevertheless. Gradually, I felt less ridiculous. And … I’m glad I proceeded as I did. I used to be depressed and now I’m almost giddily happy, and several nice people have mentioned that I’ve inspired them by being an example. You have so much loving and living to do, as yet — and as far as I can tell, you’ve experienced so little of it. Think of how much the world has to offer in that respect. Look past the ways in which you disqualify yourself from being worthy of experiencing all that, and just focus on how much there is for you to enjoy, assuming it all somehow pans out.”

“It’s hard to ignore that some of it seems vastly unrealistic.”

“Some of it might well be, but I’ve been amazed at how much I’ve accomplished by pushing forward even when victory seemed unrealistic. You won’t know until you try. It’s not as if I’m cheering on someone who’s all burned-out. You’re one of the most passionate women I know to exist. You’re just … conflicted.”

“You must be joking. Little old me? Passionate?”

“Yes!”

“Whatever gave you that idea?”

“Your art.”

The brunette was silent. She pondered this. She finally conceded the point. She tried hard, and managed to stop thinking of things as being impossible. She started imagining herself living the life she’d always craved, including deep emotional connections, primal candor, intensity, fun, excitement, sexuality …

Her lips felt dry. She moistened them with the tip of her tongue, absentmindedly — even though this would probably make them dry out faster. Her mind was elsewhere. She bit her lower lip, and then noticed what she looked like doing so. The being in the mirror radiated sexuality, shockingly so.

“I don’t know how you did it, but you have managed to inspire me to look like I belong on a street corner, and feeling enthusiastic about it. That’s what my face radiates, right now anyway. Wow.”

“Good girl.”

She felt a jolt in her tummy, at those words — butterflies, as a figure of speech. She hadn’t felt that in a long time. She almost said something about that but instead she said, “You’re a terrifying person to look up to. It’s like you’re holding out your hand, saying ‘climb up, and be with me’ yet the journey and the heights are dizzyingly scary. What if I fall?”

“I understand,” the blonde said, gently.

The brunette pondered that, then said, “Almost everyone I know would have said: ‘what if you don’t?’ ”

“Better that you figured that out by yourself,” the blonde smiled.

The brunette conceded that point too, and said, “I’d better go before I lose confidence again.” The girls said good-bye to each other. The brunette gave the sexually radiant being in the mirror one more glance, and then strode out.

* * *

Her husband happened to be nearby. He was surprised.

“That’s a very, very different look,” he observed.

Her smile deepened slightly but she didn’t say anything in reply. She picked up her car keys and her purse.

”Scene one, take two?” her husband asked.

She looked at him. Her smile deepened more yet, and she nodded.

He wasn’t sure what to say next. Even so, he knew this was a supremely important moment. She did, too.

Did he want her to succeed this time? — he wondered. He knew what the effect on her had been last time, due to not succeeding. He thought of the classic guy mantra of “If I can’t have her, nobody can.” Her previous failed attempt to leave, and the consequences to her, had exemplified that mantra — even though he had done nothing to discourage her from leaving. Is that what he wished for her? Did he want her with him even if she was miserable, and wanted to be elsewhere?

He knew that he didn’t. He was ready to see her leave and be happy. He hesitated … but then said that out loud.

The brunette inclined her head in acknowledgment. It seemed like a long moment. She realized that it had the life-changing quality of a dramatic scene in a movie. She thought of what the blonde had said, about living her life as if to inspire movies. She knew how dramatic a thing she was actually doing, right then. It was indeed the sort of scene that could be central to an intense movie. She took a deep breath. She calmly smiled a “good-bye” at her husband and walked out to her car. It all seemed surreal to her.

“I feel nervous,” she said aloud. She repeated it a few times – and felt less nervous. Sitting in her car, she texted to the blonde: “I’m in my car, about to drive off. And I don’t feel super nervous, just a little.“

“Good girl,” came the perfect reply.

* * *

An hour later, the brunette was in the blonde’s embrace, sitting in the blonde’s lap, by the hotel pool, under the moonlight. She had her arms loosely around the blonde’s neck.

“This feels like a very happy scene in a movie,” the brunette murmured.

The blonde hugged her, in silent reply.

“I’m happy,” said the brunette.

“You’ve earned it,” said the blonde.

They sat silently; loving life, enjoying the warmth of each other’s bodies, and their joint victory.

“I wish we could sit like this forever,” the brunette murmured.

With perfectly ironic timing, a manager appeared and announced that it was midnight, and that the pool area was closing.

The blonde gave the brunette one last hug, and the brunette took that as her cue to get up. She did, reluctantly. She stood, and the blonde stood up too, then reached for her sundress and slipped it on.

The brunette felt brazen, and said: “I wanted to stare at you, with you wearing just your bikini.” Even so, she felt despair. She’d finally made it to where she was with the blonde, and sitting together had been so perfect, and suddenly it was over. “I’m sad that we have to leave,” she said, with simple candor.

“You’re exiting the pool area, not leaving me,” the blonde said, smiling. She took the brunette’s hand and led her away, not pulling her along but holding her hand as if they were walking down an aisle together, side by side yet with the blonde subtly setting the pace and direction. The brunette felt butterflies in her tummy again.

She imagined herself as a bride, walking down an aisle with the blonde as the other bride in the ceremony. They each had flowers in their hair, and they were each barefoot, walking on a soft, cool lawn in a lush garden, with a small group of well-wishers on either side of the aisle. The light had an odd quality, like sunlight dimmed slightly by wisps of cooling, playful-seeming morning fog. The scene seemed to belong in a dream and in the 60s, both.

For once, the brunette smiled at how her mind went to so many strange places. She dared not tell the blonde of what she’d just thought. Then, she reminded herself that intimacy was about openness, so she decided to speak up, as they ambled away from where they’d sat together.

“You used to be married, yes?” the brunette asked.

“Yes.”

“Would you marry again?”

“No,” the blonde smiled.

“But your intended time-frame for my involvement is …” she hesitated to say it.

“Indefinitely.”

“Wow. Okay.” Then: “Would we ever have a ceremony celebrating our relationship?”

“I would like that. But perhaps not just one,” the blonde mused.

“I just was imagining what such a ceremony would be like,” the brunette said, and described it.

“I love it,” the blonde smiled.

“You don’t think it’s ridiculous?”

The blonde shook her head, with a warm smile that removed all of the brunette’s concerns. The brunette was so relieved that she could speak up, even about such intense thoughts. She used to have to be so guarded. She loved her new freedom, and said so, and added: “I feel so close to you, emotionally.”

The blonde smiled at her protege, and calmly guided the brunette to the lobby, then to the elevator. She pressed the button, waited and then led the brunette into the elevator. Once inside, she pressed the button for a particular floor, and then moved toward a far corner, gently bringing the brunette along. When they arrived in the corner, she drew the brunette closer yet, until they stood in a warm embrace, with the brunette’s arms once more around the blonde’s neck, her face pressed against the warm skin of blonde.

The elevator stopped, and the doors opened. The brunette realized it an instant too late, and she instinctively and guiltily started to draw away, yet with a lack of enthusiasm that was conveyed by how little force she was applying. The blonde resisted gently, as if to say: “Stay. It’s okay.” The brunette loved that. She pushed herself against the blonde again, and hugged her closer.

A male voice cheerfully said, “I’d say ‘get a room, you two’ but I gather you already did.”

The brunette felt the blonde nodding, and she could imagine the blonde’s friendly, confident smile as the door closed and the elevator continued its ascent.

“In my next life, I want to come back as someone like either of you, if it works that way,” the guy in the elevator said smilingly. Then, the elevator stopped again, the door opened, and he said, “Have a good night,” to which the blonde replied with a friendly “good night.”

The man hadn’t seen the brunette’s face, just the back of her head. With their privacy restored, the brunette hugged the blonde tighter yet. The blonde returned the hug. The elevator stopped again, the door opened, and a minute later, the brunette had the blonde’s hotel room key in her hand, and was swiping it, her heart seeming to beat loudly.

The brunette held the door open, and in they went. The blonde put out the “do not disturb” sign, then led the brunette to the large bed, and guided her onto it. The blonde slipped off her sundress, knowing that the brunette had wanted to look at her some more. The blonde had done some modeling and private dancing, and she knew the poses that flattered the best aspects of her physique, so she slowly gave the brunette a show. Finally, the blonde reached behind her and undid the knot of the bikini top behind her neck, and then the one behind her back. The bikini top came loose, and the blonde tossed it imperiously across the room, to land in an armchair. She kept her back to the brunette while doing so. She walked away again, striking a sexy pose, but still with her back turned toward the brunette, who laughed happily. “Turn around already,” the brunette begged her.

The blonde slowly turned, and the brunette felt butterflies in her tummy again. She felt breathless. Her mouth felt dry.

The blonde sashayed across the floor, and slid onto the bed, her back arched. She took the brunette’s hand, then closed her eyes and placed the brunette’s hand on her breast. She heard the sharp intake of breath from the brunette.

Slowly, the brunette’s hands and fingers moved, and explored. She murmured a compliment. Her hands moved up, to the blonde’s chest, her shoulders … down the smooth skin of a muscular yet slender arm, then up again, back to the blonde’s breasts. She moved her hand up the blonde’s neck, slowly using a precise finger to trace the edges of the blonde’s features. The brunette was breathing in an unusual way, more deeply and loudly than she normally would. She traced a finger around the outline of the blonde’s lips. The blonde opened her mouth slightly. The brunette’s finger explored more deeply: white teeth, almost perfectly straight … she swallowed awkwardly. She knew that she wanted to experience the blonde’s mouth on hers.

She put her arms around the blonde’s neck again, and slowly moved her face toward the blonde’s. The blonde’s eyes were still closed. When she felt the warm breath of the brunette close to her, she shivered in anticipation.

When last had she felt this happy and alive? — the brunette wondered. Not in a very long time, perhaps ever. She thought about how magical this was, and how she didn’t want to lose the blonde. She thought of the possibility of things going wrong. She fought that, trying to control her thoughts, trying to simply focus on the present. She lost the battle. Her doubts, concerns and her internal conflict quickly ebbed her happy mood away. She physically pulled away, devastated that she’d destroyed her own magic moment with a self-fulfilling prophecy.

She let go of the blonde, then slumped down and lay down on her back, a bitter expression on her face. The blonde slowly opened her eyes, and saw. She lay down beside the brunette, who turned away in embarrassment, with tears burning her eyes.

“Think out loud,” the blonde requested, gently.

“I can’t believe I’ve ruined the moment. I ruined my own mood by being afraid I’d ruin it.” The brunette curled up into a fetal position.

“You have a complex mind,” the blonde said, in understanding.

“I hate how I think. This is so typical,” the brunette exclaimed in self-disgust.

“You feel angry at yourself, in a way?”

“Yes!! I had the perfect moment, better than what I’d hoped for, and I ruined it by being afraid I’d ruin it.”

The blonde snuggled closer to the brunette and held her in an embrace, spooning her.

The brunette shrugged it away and said, “I should go. You should find someone who won’t ruin everything,” and squirmed as if to get up.

The blonde gently applied counter-force as she’d done in the elevator, and with similar effect. The brunette lay still, knowing that the next few seconds would shape the course of her life. She didn’t know what to do. She hoped fervently that the blonde did.

“So, this moment you ruined,” the blonde asked, “who made it?”

The brunette was puzzled. “I suppose … we did …?”

“I wonder if we can make another one,” the blonde said, mischievously.

With a shock, the brunette realized that, of course, they could. She said so.

“We should try,” the blonde said. “You are welcome to ruin as many of our moments as you like. We’ll just keep making new ones. Until you ruin them they’re enjoyable to me, anyway.”

The brunette felt ridiculous at having made such a big problem out of the issue. She said so.

“You feel ridiculous?”

“Yes!!”

“Very ridiculous?”

“Yes! I feel absolutely ridiculous!!”

“Totally ridiculous?”

“Utterly ridiculous!”

“Turn around,” the blonde suggested. The brunette did, loving the suggestion.

“Okay. I’m about to almost kiss you and I’d like you to ruin the moment as soon as it’s at it’s most poignant. Think of the first person who kissed you romantically, and then focus on that person, and the positive aspects. Then think of the negatives. Then, the next person, similarly. Then, think of ways the you-and-I dynamic can fail. Think of whatever you like, but keep your mouth close to mine, so I can feel your breath. When you’re done thinking about all that, and whatever else you want to think about, move in slowly until your lips barely touch mine.”

“Okay … if you’re sure.”

The blonde smiled, and closed her eyes. The brunette moved her lips closer, and made a point of thinking along the lines the blonde had suggested. She spent as much time as she wanted to, pondering each of those subjects. Then, she thought about the implications of the decisions she’d made, to bring her there tonight. She thought of what she’d have to deal with tomorrow, and how she could leave the hotel in broad daylight yet maintain her privacy. She thought about it perhaps raining the next day. She thought about rain.

She thought about how free she felt, for once, knowing that she could think of whatever she liked, without fear of it ruining the mood or the moment. She thought of the blonde, and how well the blonde understood her. She wanted to have the blonde in her life for the rest of her days. She finally moved her lips closer, and they gently touched those of the blonde.

* * *

They kissed for a long time, their mouths on each other’s. Then, the brunette’s mouth explored more. She stopped at the brunette’s waistline, not going beyond. Half an hour later, there wasn’t much of the blonde, from the waist on up, that the brunette’s lips hadn’t explored. Overwhelmed with happiness, the brunette lay back and simply savored the joy she felt. “I wonder if it’ll always be like this,” she said.

“It won’t. We’ll have our ups and downs, including much better yet and much worse than what you’ve just experienced. There’s also an intense initial euphoria currently, and that will probably fade.”

The brunette nodded, pensively. Then, she had another thought: “We’re in a sort of Dominant/submissive dynamic, aren’t we? As in, you set the direction, inspire me, guide me, and protect me?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ve had many of these, yes?”

“Yes. And two of them, I have currently.”

“Two? Last I heard you had only one girlfriend.”

“Not every submissive girl whom I mentor is a girlfriend.”

“Oh! That hadn’t occurred to me. Are you emotionally close to this other girl?”

“It’s a matter of degree. Yes, but not with the intensity that there would be if she were on track to become girlfriend material.”

“Do you have sex with this other girl?”

“No, but I do set direction, inspire, guide and protect.”

“With a sexually themed element?”

“For me, with me, in a D/s dynamic, there always is. Without the sexual element, it’s not interesting to me.”

The brunette processed all this.

“So, your girlfriend … she is your lover and submissive?”

“Yes, though she doesn’t live with me and it’s currently a long-distance dynamic.”

“I see. As for me, do you think you and I will ever have sex, and will I ever be your girlfriend, and live with you?”

“That is my plan, yes,” the blonde smiled, “and none of those developments are far in the future, I’d guess.”

“Wow.” The brunette lay there, happily and pensively. Then: “I love how it’s OK with you that my mind goes all over the place.”

“It’s not just OK, I like how you think. And eventually, so will you.”

The brunette shrugged, and said wistfully, “That seems so unlikely.”

“More unlikely than you being here, now, as you are?”

The brunette laughed her breathless laugh. “No,” she conceded. Then, “I have a question. I’m of small stature, and slender. Is your current girlfriend also like that?”

“Not as slender as you are, but yes, that’s her basic body type.”

“Have you ever had a tall, muscular girlfriend or submissive?”

“Yes, multiple.”

“Did you call them each your good girl too?”

“I don’t recall, but with each girl, I have the sort of dynamic that reconciles with that terminology.”

The brunette was pensive for a few more seconds, then: “I think I’m ready to articulate some observations, out loud. The way you deal with me is inverted from how others deal with me. Others tend to treat me as cute, charming, and diminutive, sort of like an endearing cartoon character whom they want to take to bed. That image has had its uses, for me, but I’m so deeply tired of that. You … you don’t treat me as if I’m diminutive. With you, I’m just one more girl, albeit one you care about and find endearing – yet not in a way that trivializes me. I like how seriously you take me. So many view me as superficial, quirky and eccentric, yet you see so much more.”

“Good observations,” the blonde commended her.

“Wait, I also realize that even while treating me as cute, so many people treat me as if I were royalty, fragile or both. They fuss over me. I hate that. By contrast, you don’t. For example, I love how you handed me the room key so that I’d be the one opening the hotel room door, and holding it open for you. Almost everyone else would have opened the door for me, and held it open so I could walk through it first. With you, it’s not like that. You like me and value me, but you don’t have me on a pedestal. Most others adore me in the sense that they’re fawning and groveling. Not you. It’s like you’re standing on a mountaintop, and I’m standing slightly below you. You’re looking down at me with a look that says I belong next to you, and you’re urging me to ascend, to be with you. Oh! And I just realized … I don’t even know what the others are seeing when they’re gushing. You, instead… you see the ‘real me’ … the actual person. I can’t imagine why you’d like what you see as a result, but … somehow you do.”

“So … others see you as diminutive, they don’t know the ‘real you’ and they treat you as if you’re on a pedestal, whereas I treat you as someone fundamentally equal … you, the ‘real you’ … and even though you view yourself as being so much less than me, I disagree and I am encouraging you to ascend to where I am and take your rightful place by my side,” summarized the blonde.

“Yes! And I can’t imagine how I could ever think of you as my equal. You’ve done so much, learned so much …”

“Not my equal in every way – just fundamentally. As in, you’re a good, worthy person and mate for me, and I like your way of thinking.”

“Wait, if you already think of me as your equal, then how can I ascend?”

“In your own estimation of yourself.”

That made sense to the brunette. Then: “Once I reach the level you are, will we still be in a D/s dynamic?”

“Yes. We probably always will be.”

“Why?”

“You prefer the role of a submissive, and I enjoy setting the direction, inspiring you, guiding you, protecting you.”

“What about the whips and chains, as in the BDSM books and movies?”

“Unnecessary, weren’t they?”

The brunette realized with a shock that the act of winning her submission was already in the past. “Yes, wow. Then again, I had no resistance that you had to break, so to speak.”

“If you had, whips and chains would not be the way. But as to you not having resisted, are you sure?” the blonde smiled.

The brunette thought about it, and it dawned on her how resistant she had been. “I indeed was resisting you. Wow, I didn’t think of it like that. You sometimes understand me better than I do myself. Often, actually. That used to scare me but nowadays I love it.”

She turned toward the blonde and brought her lips up to those of the other girl again. They kissed for a long time.

* * *

After a while, the blonde lifted her head, looked at the bedside clock and announced: “It’s 2 a.m. I prefer you spend the night but if there’s any announcement you should make to someone else, I’m gently reminding you that time flies when you’re doing what you enjoy.”

“Oh! That did go quickly. Wow! Okay … “ she reached for her phone and sent a text message to her husband, then lay back and said, “I can’t believe how natural and easy that was.”

The blonde waited for the brunette to elaborate. The brunette’s mind seemed to be going a million miles per hour.

“I texted him that I’m not planning to go back tonight or tomorrow night, and that I plan to go back the day after that, physically … yet emotionally I’m not going back.”

Her phone made a sound. She looked at it. The text message reply was: “I figured. Best of success with your new life, but in person, we should discuss how this affects things, officially.”

She typed … “Agreed. I appreciate your understanding. Shall we talk? Tuesday afternoon?”

”4 pm”

“See you then”

“OK”

“That’s that,” the brunette announced. “I just dynamited the bridge behind me.”

“Good girl … but was it ever really there?”

The brunette thought hard. “No … but it seemed to be, and that was comforting in its illusion.”

“I understand,” replied the blonde.

The girls were quiet for a long time. Then, the brunette seemed to have processed her concerns, and she focused on kissing the blonde some more. After half an hour of that, she lay against the brunette, looking at the ceiling. She was happy but her mind was racing. The blonde could see this, and smiled.

After several minutes, the brunette frowned, then thought some more and finally said: “Normally I’d never say this, especially since things seem so perfect but … I just realized something that has been bothering me, these last few minutes. I no longer feel that what we have is fragile, and so I feel OK with bringing up … difficult subjects, like this next one.”

The blonde prompted her to continue.

“I love that you cherish me and want to protect me but some of my fantasies are … “ she turned and finished the rest of the sentence with her face buried in a pillow.

“I didn’t hear that, but let me guess … Primal? Intense?”

The brunette turned around and replied: “Oh, gawd, yes. But,” she hastened to add, “I don’t need to experience them. I just now realized I probably never will and I have accepted that. I’m so happy with what you and I have, but this aspect has just occurred to me and I felt the need to say good-bye to those fantasies — so if I looked a little sad, I wanted you to know why.”

“Wait, I don’t want the you-and-I dynamic to be bland.”

“No, but what I fantasize about is FAR from bland, and doesn’t reconcile to you cherishing me.”

“Are you sure? If you crave something intense and I orchestrate that, wouldn’t that be consistent with me valuing you highly?”

The brunette was shocked. “I … I hadn’t considered that. But what I crave is so … so … intense.”

“Remember, I used to be a professional Dominatrix, and part of the job is not unlike the erotic version of an action movie stunt director. I make viable enough of the elements of what seems implausible. As a result, the watered-down version is viable yet still satisfyingly intense.”

The brunette absorbed all this and then prompted the blonde to continue.

“You probably don’t have just one fantasy, true? Multiple?”

“Yes …”

“So choose one that’s sort of in the middle of the intensity scale, and tell me.”

“Oh, I could never!”

“Okay,” the blonde said, “then let me tell you one of mine.”

“Does it involve me?”

“Not this one. I’ve had it for years.”

“Okay, wow.”

The blonde told the brunette about her own sexual fantasy. The brunette responded with: “Wow. That IS intense. I didn’t realize that sort of thing was a fantasy for you.”

“And it’s totally impracticable, yes?”

“Yes, it seems to be.”

“And yet, someone who loved me very much helped me move towards orchestrating that, and with a few aspects absent in the interest of viability, I experienced that fantasy.”

“Wow! And were you safe?”

“Safe enough.”

“Wow! And those missing ingredients … “

“Ended up not detracting much.”

“Wow!!”

“Yes.”

“But you still have that fantasy?”

“Yes. I’d like to experience it again.”

“So … now I feel OK with telling you one of mine.”

And so they lay in bed together, taking turns with discussing ever-more-intense sexual fantasies. By 4 a.m. the brunette snuggled closer and mumbled, “I feel closer to you emotionally, romantically, then I’ve felt … ever. And yet, we haven’t even had sex. I even still have my dress and my shoes on. Isn’t that strange?”

“No. It’s all fundamentally about having a mental connection.”

“But there’s a physical aspect too, though.”

“Yes, but most people overestimate its importance.”

“Wow. Yes, I can see that. So, now I want to remove my dress and you’ve seen my soul naked, so to speak — yet somehow I still hesitate to show you my body, naked.”

“I’m happy with whatever you’re comfortable with. You can sleep in your dress if you like. Worst case you rumple it. However, I do think you should take your dress off if you would like to do it, and you just need a little encouragement.”

The brunette processed all this. Then she stood up, and said: “Somehow that was the perfect response.” She reached behind her back to unzip her dress.

“Whoa, wait, stop. Slow down … very, very slowly, so that I can savor this.”

“What am I, your stripper girl?”

“Yes.”

The brunette took a deep breath. She looked the blonde in the eyes, and very slowly, she removed her dress. It snagged on her elbow and there was an awkward moment, but she recovered.

“Please tell me that none of your former girlfriends was a professional stripper and that she did this so much better.”

“One of them was, yet she didn’t do it better.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“For you, this was important, and I could see it. For her, this sort of thing was routine. What you just did was much more meaningful, thus more sexy.”

“Even though she is more skilled and prettier than I am?”

“Yes.”

“So she is prettier than I am?”

“Technically, yes as in: she’d be more likely to win a typical beauty pageant.”

“And yet, what I just did was sexier for you, personally?”

“Yes.”

“I’m starting to understand how this all works … I like it. Wow. “ Then: “Do I have to remove my underwear too? And I apologize, it’s not very sexy.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Why?”

“Because you crave to do so.”

The brunette laughed again. “Yes, I do,” and with her mind racing, she absent-mindedly reached to undo her bra. She was immediately asked to stop, and to proceed at a much slower pace. She did so.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, when she stood there naked. “I’m probably the least sexy girl you’ve ever seen naked.”

“You don’t feel sexy?”

“Well, I DO feel sexy in a way — but I’m trying to sympathize with how disappointed you must feel.”

“Do you know how I feel?”

“Well, no,” the brunette conceded.

“Ask me.”

“Are you disappointed at how I look?”

“No.”

“Be honest … I crave that. I can’t be pretty by the standards of the girls you’ve been with.”

“You’re pretty by my standards.”

“How?”

“Because it’s not just a naked body. It’s YOUR naked body.”

“Well, if it weren’t mine, would you still like it?”

“Less, and that’d be true even if it were shaped like Miss Nevada.”

“You really can’t separate how much you like me from liking my body, can you?” the brunette asked, loving what she had just discovered.

“No.”

“I’m so glad,” the brunette said, feeling intense relief. She kicked off her shoes and walked across the room, naked. She pirouetted. “You like?”

“I do.”

“I haven’t felt attractive, deep down, personally, in a long time …” she paused … “if ever.”

“You like that feeling.”

“I LOVE this feeling.”

“I’m glad. You deserve it. Welcome to your new life.”

The brunette thought about the implications of everything she was learning. They overwhelmed her. She became silent, and stopped moving. Tears formed, then streamed down her cheeks. She stood there, slumped, simply crying. The blonde stood waiting, watching, sympathizing but not intervening. After two minutes of standing there crying, the brunette stumbled toward the bed, fell down on it, and embraced the blonde. She tried to speak through her tears but soon she was sobbing and it became impossible to speak. She stopped trying, and simply gave in, and cried, holding onto the blonde. Many minutes later, she could finally articulate her thoughts, and she did.

“So that’s why my age isn’t a negative for you?”

The blonde nodded and smiled.

“You still want me to look good but more as a ‘be the best I can be’ sort of thing, not as a prerequisite?”

The blonde nodded again, smiling.

“So that’s why ten years or more from now, you’re still likely to want me and find me attractive?”

“Yes,” the blonde replied. “No guarantees or promises, but it seems logical.”

“It does,” the brunette agreed. “I have not felt so relieved in a very, very long time. Wow. My biggest concern has just evaporated.”

She turned, lying in front of the blonde, spooning, and she pushed back against the blonde, snuggling happily. Then, she realized something. “You still have your bikini bottom on,” she said, almost accusingly.

“For tonight, it seems prudent,” the blonde explained. Reluctantly, the brunette agreed. Then, she reached for the blonde’s hand, and placed it over her own breast. She loved how the blonde’s hand explored its new protégé, for a long time.

“I’m so sleepy but I don’t want to fall asleep. I am happy,” the brunette mumbled, the smile and sleepiness both audible in her voice.

“Me too,” replied the blonde. “But we have tomorrow, and every day after that, potentially. Good night, my princess.”

“Good night, my queen,” the brunette responded, sleepily, almost asleep. “I love how you said that … not little princess, just princess … your princess … ” her voice trailed off into a mumble on the last two words. She was asleep.

A Terrified Brunette Reaches Out Nevertheless, Part 6

It took the brunette several hours to feel physically better, after hydrating, eating and taking a shower. She decided to take an evening stroll. She used to walk with an intense pace, but this time she ambled, enjoying the scents of the flowers that she passed along the way. She felt calm, and intensely alive. She pondered her life. She thought of what she valued, and what she craved. She thought of the benefits of being with the blonde – and the costs, especially the social costs.

On impulse, she texted the blonde. “Hi, I have a question. Before you came out as a trans girl, you had a lot of social respectability, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” came the reply after only a few seconds.

“If I’m interrupting, I’m sorry, and I’m fine with waiting a long time for your replies.”

The blonde texted back a smiley-face icon.

The brunette continued: “Would you please describe to me everything you stood to lose and how you felt about that? I know that adding you to my life will have huge consequences. I know you have never urged me to end any of my existing professional or personal relationships but I can’t imagine any of them surviving the general indignation that’s likely to hit me like a tidal wave as soon as I focus on you in a more-than-friends capacity.”

“Okay. Kudos for thinking this through.”

“Wait I have more to say first”

“Okay”

“It’s ironic how this is happening at a time when LGBT pride festivals are so prevalent. This is my own little festival of sorts but if I want to go home after the festival I might not have much left to go home to, unless it’s your place and that is not what I am focused on right now”

“I like the analogy”

“I am just trying to think this through. It feels to me as if it comes down to having to choose between you and everyone else. It’s tempting to choose you and I might well, but I don’t simply feel good about that. There’s probably a reason why and I want to really think this through. I wanted to simply feel good about choosing you, and I do not”

“I am proud of you. This is a commendable approach. Is it OK to reply verbally?”

“Sure.”

“Call me, please.”

The brunette found privacy, called and then her mellifluous voice said, “Hello.”

“Hello again. I plan to respond to your question but there’s an important point I’d like to emphasize first, as to your values. You have your own set of values. I’d like you to focus on them, and cherish them – all of them.”

“Yes?” the brunette was puzzled.

“Even so, I suggest you give special focus to the neglected values, those you’ve been hiding, the values you could not celebrate or enjoy while keeping them a secret. So even though I’m a catalyst, I’m not the primary person in current developments — you are.“

“I see.”

“Whatever changes you make … let’s say that for example three months from now, you find yourself aroused and delighted on stiletto heels in a sex club as my protégé, with rainbow ribbons in your hair, at a wild lesbian sex party. I would only want you there if that’s a big picture consistent with who you are, and your values. In other words, I could not change you into a lesbian or a bi girl, and I would not want to make you a wild girl — just provide a way for you to openly live based on your nature and your values. I would provide to you some situations where, either with just you and I in the dynamic, or with other people too, or just other people, you get to celebrate — and as part of that, explore — what your values are. It’s fundamentally about you, and it should be.”

“I didn’t think of it like that. And as to the club, I wouldn’t want it to be with just other people. Your involvement would be essential for me.”

“Okay,” the blonde responded. “It’s time that you get to live your life, joyously and fully. The adjectives of ‘bored’ and ‘lonely’ should become ever less applicable to you, as time goes by.”

“Well, it might be, as soon as we’re together.”

“It will help, but emotions do have a certain momentum.”

“That’s true.”

“Let’s think of primary activities and derivative works. If someone paints a picture of a couple kissing, then first there should BE a couple kissing, as the basis for that. Ironically, if the painter then later ends up as part of a couple doing the actual kissing, then perhaps she’ll spend more time kissing and less time painting, until there’s an optimal balance for her. From then on, she doesn’t create art to describe her own longing — as in, focus on what she doesn’t have — but she can create art to celebrate her life — as in, what she does have. I’m not saying ‘be happy with what you have’ … I’m saying ‘go achieve your values and thus experience happiness.’”

The brunette was quiet. She thought about the implications to her own life. After a few seconds, the blonde continued:

“I know that art can also be a great coping mechanism but if you’d be better off experiencing things more in person, in real life, then let’s get more of that going. Superficially, it sounds like ‘let’s go have some fun’ but it’s not just about fun. It’s more targeted, more optimized.”

“Wow. Okay. Something about what you said jarred me, though. I’m sorry, I’m preoccupied with that.”

“The ‘go’ word?”

“Yes… I’m too intimidated to ‘go’ do this. I wouldn’t know how to start, nor would I have the courage. I’d just let the remaining days of my life scroll by, and feel frustrated, with my wild visions remaining wistful fantasies. I need someone to be a so-called bad influence, someone who takes me with her, to interesting places and who inspires me, and who brings out … okay, now I see how this fits … brings out the wild girl in me. I mean, not that I primarily care what we do. Just being with that person … with you … is key. However, you tend to do things I’d consider fun and exciting so that’d be part of the picture anyway.”

“I’m sorry. I should be more precise. I used that as a figure of speech. A more-precise version would be ‘Come with me and achieve your values and thus experience happiness.’ “

“That’s much better,” the complex voice said, with a smile.

“So the wild girl is indeed in there somewhere, yes?”

“Very much so, and always hidden.” The brunette thought for a while, then added: “I used to be so excited to meet famous people. Much of what I respected about them, I then went and did myself, even if on a slightly smaller scale, and the reality ended up being a lot less glamorous. Not that it hasn’t been a wonderful experience, in many ways, but … now what?”

“I see your point,” said the blonde gently. Both girls were quiet, and pensive.

Then, the blonde said: “Depression is a complex issue and I don’t want to oversimplify it, but someone truly being sad with her life situation can be a strong contributing factor, as I understand things. I mean this respectfully, but if your life is depressing then that’s not always just a figure of speech.”

“It IS a complex issue and yes, you do have a point. How I evaluate my own life is certainly a huge factor.”

“So an at-heart wild girl who feels she’s been missing out … that sounds like a basis for sadness.”

“It IS.”

“Can you see how it’s not me turning you into a wild girl, but just removing barriers so that you get to live as the wild girl you are, deep inside?”

“I like how you put that.”

The blonde smiled.

The brunette added: “That sounds like a lot of work, for you.”

“I would enjoy it, seeing you thrive as such.”

The brunette smiled.

The blonde continued: “The way my work situation is, and much in my life, my schedule is super-busy compared to, and I mean this nicely, how busy yours might be right now. If I’m correct, then this sets things up to where you could presumably become my traveling companion and sidekick on my peculiar adventures. I suspect we will have a great many intense conversations even if we are just driving through the Nevada desert. In so doing, we can learn from each other, about each other and about ourselves, because we are so like-minded, albeit with different historical paths. I do see tremendous value in conversation, reflection and introspection but I also would want us to experience fun things along the way. It wouldn’t all just be focused on the ‘wild-girl’ theme, either. That’s just an example. ”

“Okay,” said the brunette with a smile in her voice. “Wow, I feel young again, strangely. But you make it sound part-time, like just when you travel.”

“No, it doesn’t have to be. The idea of you here full-time — I like it.”

“Me too. I can’t believe I’m saying this. I feel like a teenager moving away from home to go live with a bad-influence wild person.”

The blonde smiled, and then pensively added: “Movies, songs, books and stories are great but let’s live the sort of life that inspires these works of art. Let’s be inspiring examples for others.”

“Wow.”

“Let’s go places, experience adventures and excitement, struggle with issues, make mistakes and overcome them to experience victories. I do so anyway but it’d be more fun for me with you along. That’s not to say I can focus on adventure 24×7 …”

“Well, what you consider to be normal life might well be what I consider an adventure.”

“I hope so. Also, during all this, I would never want you to violate your sense of self. Instead, I’d like to see you celebrate it fully. So as to the negative effects: I would not want you to choose being with me at the expense of your career, family harmony and marital harmony. I would, however, be delighted to enable and empower you as you explore who and what you are, and who and what you value, with special emphasis on the values you’ve been subjugating. The whole thing about how you feel about your own feelings … that’s a concern for you, isn’t it?”

“Yes…”

“So instead of being frustrated, ashamed and guilty, hiding the part of you that craves to be celebrated, you would make a point of no longer hiding it.”

“That sounds great, but very much not easy.”

“I’m sure it wouldn’t be. You’re highly sensitive and you have made a polished image consistent with what people expect of you. It’s worked better for the you-and-them dynamic than it’s worked for you, personally, as to your own view of yourself, yes?”

The brunette was quiet, absorbing all this. Then: “Yes …”

“You’re a complex diamond with hidden facets that could shine brightly in the sunlight but that glare would bother some people.”

“Good analogy.”

“As to who should like you the most, shouldn’t that person be you? If you alienate someone by being true to yourself, is that perhaps a person you indeed should be alienating?”

“Well, we do have to get along with other people too. It’s not as simple as you make it sound.”

“I agree, it’s a balancing act. Even so, of all the people to whom you are kind, nice, sweet, accommodating and thoughtful … shouldn’t you be supreme on the list of beneficiaries?”

“I don’t know … I guess so.”

“Let’s analyze some people who have benefited from you professionally. Pick someone.”

The brunette said a name.

“Okay. So have you, all in all, enriched this person’s life? Made it happier?”

“Well, we’ve had our ups and downs, but all in all I’d say she’s better off for having had me in her life, yes.”

“Okay, and the next person?”

She said another name.

“And how would you rate the effects of your behavior?”

“A net positive. Not all positive … some times were hard, but … good, all in all.”

“Next person?”

“Some people … I’m omitting from the list. I’m not sure they’re better of for having met me. I don’t like saying that … but it’s probably true.”

“Due to things you did to wrong them?”

“Oh, no! But they ended up being hurt even so.”

“Was that your responsibility?”

“Well … “

The blonde waited.

“Well, no … but I FEEL responsible.”

“I understand. That’s a lousy feeling, feeling responsible for someone else’s pain.”

“Yes! I hate it SO MUCH!!”

“But logically, are you responsible? As in, were you out of bounds, and as a result, you, specifically you, hurt them?”

“No, definitely not. But they did get hurt.”

“I see.”

The brunette was quiet for a while and then said; “now I feel ridiculous.”

“Because you took responsibility for people being hurt even though you didn’t hurt them?”

“Yes!!”

“That means to me that you’re caring, benevolent, and responsible.”

“I can think of another adjective, too.”

“Aren’t those good traits, though, that you showed? If anything, you were overly caring?”

“Well ….”

“If everyone thought like you, less people would be hurt, yes?”

“I don’t know …” she thought hard. “Actually, yes. Certainly. Yes.”

“So, you’re a good person as such, yes?”

“Well … yes.”

“Okay, so now imagine girl A is entrusted with managing someone else’s life, girl B.”

“Okay …”

“ … and then the life path of girl B is like yours and she ends up in the same situation you are now. How well did girl A do?”

The brunette felt a shock of sadness. She thought hard to see if she was missing something but the answer was already clear to her. She didn’t want to reply. Tears blurred her eyesight.

“Not well” she texted and added “crying”

“I’m sorry you’re having a hard time with this, nice person.”

A minute went by. “Say something nice” the brunette texted.

”Seems to me that in your balance of beneficiaries you didn’t rank yourself high enough. When you shaped your emphasis, you focused more on what others wanted you to be and less on how you, in your heart of hearts, wanted to be. So you were sweet, thoughtful and accommodating but perhaps to a fault.”

“Evidently” the brunette texted.

“So let’s agree you need to also get along with people, and it’s a hard balance to find, but if there’s an optimal balance point, then you haven’t so far chosen that.”

“No, I was WAY off!” said the intense voice.

“Do you think you’ve given this mode enough time to provide it a fair opportunity?”

“Too long. FAR too long.”

“So perhaps by now you’re eminently justified in a course correction, as in moving the emphasis more toward you being happier even if others are less comfortable as a result?”

Silence. Then “Yes,” the voice said. “Does this have to be so hard?”

“I don’t know any other way … “ the blonde said, gently. “I wish I could give you a hug right now.”

“Me too…”

“Let’s analyze your values using a political analogy. Current US culture is a blend based in part on both Democrat and Republican influences, yes?”

“Okay … Yes ….”

“And at some point the Democrats are in power, and other times the Republicans are, and things change, but there’s still a lot of cultural momentum, so to speak, for each side, yes?”

“Yes.”

“You’re similar. You have a set of values that you live by openly that fit well with one cultural paradigm, but your hidden values would offend the cultural mainstream of that paradigm, yet many people in the opposing paradigm, not at all, true?”

The brunette thought hard. “Well, yes. True.”

“So, let’s explore that. Let’s say you decide to be sexually wild and come out as bi or gay, and you come move in with me and you become my sidekick. I’m ready for you as such. You could start today. But I haven’t heard YOU say you’re ready. So, let’s get you ready. Let’s think this through and see whom you’d offend, since that’s a major hurdle, yes?”

“Yes. And, oh, my gawd.”

“Your mom is open-minded, isn’t she?”

“Well, yes.”

“Your dad too?”

“Yes …”

“Did you raise your children to be judgmental, conservative homophobes?”

“No.”

“But even so, are they?”

“No!”

“So even though many adult children struggle with a parent’s sexual identity, they’d basically be OK, yes?”

“Well, yes.”

“And it’s not like they’re small and are going to be bullied in school because their mom comes out as a rainbow girl.”

“No, and not that a school bully should prevent me from living as who I am.”

“I agree. Who should, then?”

The brunette was quiet. “Nobody should,” she admitted, quietly.

“So, as to your career: What’s your profession again, exactly?”

The brunette blushed. “I feel ridiculous again.”

The blonde texted her a smiley face.

The brunette said the name of her profession in general. The blonde pressed her to be specific. She reluctantly was.

“So, that’s a subculture in which wild-girl behavior isn’t all that bad a thing really, is it?”

“No, it’s not. Of all the professions on the planet, it’s pretty much the best one as to accommodating wild-girl behavior. Wow, I feel even more ridiculous now. I’ve just always felt I need to cool it and not … well, anyway.”

“Not what?”

“Not be totally open or I’d offend some people.” She paused. “And perhaps thirty years ago that might have mattered but even then maybe not. Dammit! I wasted so much time.” She thought about what might have been. “But, I was also shy.”

“That means you felt like a social misfit but in the right social situation, if someone else had taken the initiative as I’m proposing to take in the you-and-I dynamic, you’d have been fine with openly being a wild girl, yes?”

“Yes!”

“Seems to me your underground river is ready to break through and be visible above the surface, and become fountains and waterfalls, and to sparkle in the sunlight.”

“Yes! I like how you said that. The underground river of my repressed values?”

“Yes.”

“Two problems, though.”

“You’re married and you feel ancient?”

“Yes.”

“Well, go talk to the man. Be open. Work out a mutual ‘win.’ Worst case he tells you to get lost and then that ironically solves the problem, as you phrased it, yes?”

“You make it sound so simple.”

“Well, isn’t it?”

“No. It’s complicated.”

They talked about it some more. Then, the brunette said, “this openness does make things simple but it’s hard to do.” The blonde agreed, and then asked her to say her age out loud.

“I don’t like you very much right now,” the brunette said, but she said the number.

“And your profession is … “

The brunette laughed, and said it.

“And you’re not too old for that, right?”

“No!”

“Well, then applying those standards ….”

“Am I too old to come out and be a wild girl? No. I see your point. Wow.”

“The people in your life might react strongly because they will probably be surprised, and might feel that they have been misled, due to the abrupt change of direction you’re announcing. However, a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance is hard enough without having to worry about how regularly you send news updates to everyone else in your life. So to me the important thing is that you figure out who you are, as the priority, and then manage the announcements of that as a secondary priority. That’s not to say that the opinions of other people don’t matter, but if objectively there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing and yet it offends someone, perhaps that’s the problem of that person — not your problem.”

“You’re making a lot of sense.”

“So now, do you still need to me to answer the original question — or has that been superseded?”

”It has been superseded, though as a matter of curiosity I still want to hear that story one day. But, you’ve resolved what was bothering me, and that’s what my intent was.”

“I’m glad.”

“I’m going to hang up now, and go think about what we discussed, and then go drink some more water. Then, I’d like to call you again.”

“Please do.”

The girls said good-bye, each with a happy smile.

* * *

Half an hour later, the brunette was lounging about on her bed, feeling cheerful. She was lying on her back with her one leg in the air, drawing imaginary patterns on the ceiling with her big toe. She called the blonde again. “Hello, I’m hydrated and I feel like I’m eighteen again, but it’s the new, improved version of that. Better than the original.”

“I’m glad. Hello.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m sitting by the pool, working on my laptop PC, or I was — until an interesting 18-year-old called me.”

“I hope you mean, me.”

“I do,” the blonde smiled.

“You’re sitting in the dark?”

“There are some lights here but they’re not dazzlingly bright.”

“What are you wearing?”

“A small yellow bikini.”

”Would you text me a picture?”

“Yes.”

A minute later the brunette had a picture.

“I like it… I like how you look. I wish I was younger, much younger.”

“Younger even than 18?”

The brunette laughed her breathless laugh. “I FEEL eighteen but I know I’m not.”

“I understand, “ the blonde said, with a smile in her voice. Then: “What are your evening plans?”

“I have none.”

“I’d like to task you with something.”

“Yes?” The brunette found the choice of wording intriguing.

“I’m in the Marina area. You’re not ready to meet me and I understand that, but I’d like you to start thinking of becoming comfortable with that idea. Part of the hurdle is emotional, and doing something tends to be a good antidote for feeling intimidated. So, the task is for you to get ready to come here, and then to get in your car and reset the trip meter to zero, and drive toward the Marina, where I am — until you start to feel too intimidated or overwhelmed. Then, you turn around and go back. There’s no failure mode. The idea isn’t to have you make any particular amount of progress but to allow yourself to feel however you feel, as you’re preparing and driving.”

“Okay …”

“If you can’t even finish doing your make-up and then you are overwhelmed already, that is okay too. If you finish your make-up but you don’t make it out the front door, or out the driveway, or out the neighborhood, that’s okay. I want to show you that it’s OK to fail in such things and that it doesn’t damage the you-and-I dynamic.

“Wow. Okay. That sounds almost fun.”

“Text me how your journey went, when you’re done and you feel OK again. On good days you will come closer, and on bad days perhaps you don’t even finish doing your makeup. The key point here is that either is fine.”

“I can’t imagine how you can have the patience for this.”

“I like you but I’m happy even without you. You being here would not make me happy, since I already am. It would just make things nicer yet for me. It’s not an emotional roller coaster for me. Also, I think the you-and-I story will prevail, setbacks and all. So, I’m not worried.”

“My actions and issues, such as me being conflicted and unreliable, even falling apart – they don’t seem to make you sad. It seems almost like you have an emotional firewall against that. Yet you deeply care, too, I can tell. It’s a type of one-way mechanism that you have. Now that I think about it, I really love the dynamic. You can and do bring me up, but I cannot bring you down.”

“That sums it up beautifully.”

“I love it so much, because part of why don’t want to interact with you is that I don’t want to poison your spirits on days when I’m depressed. It’s bad enough for me to feel like that but then when I have to worry about the effects on other people too, it just makes everything worse yet for me. Much as I value the idea of you in my life on an ongoing basis, some days might still be difficult for me and I might still get depressed. My emotional troubles are not going to vanish overnight, if ever. Even so, knowing you’re basically okay is such a relief to me, because I don’t have to carry the responsibility of your unhappiness along with mine. I know this sounds stupid but with you, I could have the relief of being depressed guilt-free, for once. Somehow, I think you understand what I mean.”

“I do,” smiled the blonde.

“Did you spend a lot of time in the company of depressed people?”

“Enough to learn a few things.”

“There are some superficial plus some intensely deep reasons why I like you, but also — it’s almost like you’ve been training to be a really good mate for me.”

The blonde smiled. “New subject: Perhaps this is a good time to mention that when I came out as a trans girl, I thought it best to preemptively start ending relationships because there was no way that person X or organization Y would ever accept me. I’d already packed some of my things and had started moving them to a new city. Then, I decided to give people a chance, and to explain things nicely to those I cared about – but informing them, not asking their permission to live as who I am. To my delight, many did like the “new me” enough, as much or even more. Other people, who I thought would be negative … they ended up being completely open-minded and accepting, whereas other people, who I thought to be open-minded, were completely not OK. You never know how people might react until you give them a chance. They might respond in odd ways for reasons that you don’t understand. So, I suggest you also give the individual people in your life a chance. Explain nicely that this is who you are, and that you have decided to live accordingly. They also don’t need to know how wild you plan to go be. A basic announcement should be good enough. So, if everyone in your life tells you that you’re now dead to them, then okay, then it is indeed the worst-case scenario you described — but if that happens, let it happen by itself. Don’t bring it on yourself. ”

“Okay.”

“You can have both me and people from all over your past in your life. You preserving the ties to your past doesn’t mean that you have to sell me to other people in your life, and get their buy-in. It means they continue to love you. It doesn’t involve me, primarily if at all. If you compartmentalize, it’s OK.”

“Wow. I’d sort of mentally prepared to go into exile and it seemed tempting in some ways and yet too much. So, I don’t have to.”

“You don’t have to. You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re saying you realize now that you like girls and you want to spend time with one particular girl. That’s actually commendably forthright.”

“Wow, I agree.” Then: “You have a knack for sounding wise without coming across as old, whereas I feel the exact opposite. So, there’s a compliment for you — but this doesn’t make me feel very good about myself.”

“You have had a hard life …”

“No, I haven’t, by objective standards.”

“… emotionally. It’s not just about what happens but how you feel about it. You’re a good person. You have made reasonable decisions, benevolent ones — and you have given the implications ample opportunity to run their course. If these were optimal, including the effects on you — as in, now you are thriving and happy — then you wouldn’t need to make a change to your lifestyle. So I sympathize with you not feeling good about yourself, but you have been in a bad situation, for years.”

“Yeah. And, since we’re bouncing from subject to subject, part of what terrifies me is that you will stop liking me. So, I’d rather not even start.”

“What I know about you, long-distance — would you say that my conclusions about you have been valid? Would you say that I understand you fairly well?”

“Extremely well.”

“Would you say that you have a deep darkness that I have not yet glimpsed, of which I am completely unaware?”

The brunette admitted, “how deep my darkness gets, you probably don’t know — but you are at least aware of that darkness in me.”

“All right. And even so, would you say I expressed enthusiasm for you based on a reasonable amount of insight?”

“Yes, though I find it perplexing that you would want me. You seem so self-sufficient and happy.”

“I don’t need you in my life to change it from unhappiness to happiness or to make me complete.”

“Okay, wait, sorry to interrupt but I just realized something. If you needed me, as in depended on me, for your happiness … then on days when I fell apart then you’d be unhappy. So it’s better this way, actually. You value me but you don’t require me as an essential part of your own happiness. That’s actually a relief to me.”

“I’m glad. Even so, you resonate with me deeply. That’s why I’m so focused on you. Your presence would add much value. I thrive — and survive — based on my values. So in that sense, I need you but it’s a positive need, in the good one-way-mechanism-sense as you explained previously.”

“I like that. And, some days, I’m not too sure I would add value — I might be depressed.”

“Let’s assume so, but you would not be depressing, just depressed.”

“I know. I have been reminding myself of that. I love that. Is this all too weird?”

“It’s fine. Some days you will add value and some days you won’t. I’m not asking you to sign up to be a guaranteed-positive bundle of daily joy. There will be good days and bad days. But I do enjoy who you are, and how you think.”

“That’s reassuring.”

“The values for which I chose you, are they transient or part of you?”

“I can’t imagine changing as such, so part of me.”

“So if my fondness for you grows into love, then there’s your unconditional love, yes?”

This hit the brunette hard. “Wow. Yes.”

“As to my weird life and your potential place in it, sometimes I will want to be alone and sometimes I will want to focus on someone else without you being right there. Even so, the point is that I would like you to be an ongoing long-range part of my life.”

“Even when I’m 80 years old?”

“I don’t see why not. Also, by then, I’ll be almost 80 years old as well. There is value to having shared historical culture and insight. I’m not saying I’m committing to forever but I like the idea of saying ‘indefinitely.’ Even so, if you start pulling wings off butterflies or start robbing banks, then maybe I won’t want you in my life anymore. Do you think that’s likely to happen?”

“No,” the brunette smiled.

“I think love should be based on the fundamentals of a person, regardless of how she currently happens to look in a bathing suit — present company included. That way, the love and acceptance are deep and fundamental, so when she has bad days, or bad years, it doesn’t really register in the grand scheme of things.”

“That’s really a good approach to unconditional love.”

“As to age issues, let’s turn the perspectives around. I understand you like my look but one day I will looked ancient so would you still want me?”

“I see your point. That’s reassuring. And yes, of course.”

“So the same applies to you, yes?”

The brunette was silent for a long time, and then said: “Yes. Wow, that’s so reassuring.”

“I’m glad.” Then: “As to the approach I’d prefer to take with you, as part of me running my little business empire, let’s say I’m analyzing an Audi transmission for hours on end. It would be a lot more fun for me if you were right there, doing something you enjoy too, rather than me calling you and saying I plan to be home by 10 p.m. but wow this thing is really complicated so it might be midnight. I’d much rather have you be right there, and enjoying music or making music, or art, or whatever you enjoy. Maybe we also have a nice conversation, while I work. Maybe you run your fingers up the back of my thighs. Maybe you get a late-night strip show, or maybe I do. My point is that I do work a lot but I work on my own time, and mostly where I like, and it be fun to have you there. I hope that’s something you would be okay with. That’s not to say this flexible mode will be forever. Life has a way of throwing curve balls, including to me. But for the last thirteen years or so, this is how it’s been and for the foreseeable future too.”

“It would be vastly more than okay. I would love for you to take me along.”

“I’m glad. This doesn’t mean all day every day but days when you’re not with me are temporary exceptions. You don’t get put on the shelf or deserted. You remain part of my life and my focus.“

“If I have that much companionship time with you, then when I have some alone time in that mode, I might welcome it and not feel either bored or lonely. That’s perfect. You really do understand me well.”

“I had help,” smiled the blonde. Then: “as to your task, do your make-up to your intended benefit, not mine, so that you feel as pretty as you’re likely to be able to feel. I hope to see you in bed without makeup on anyway, at night and in the mornings, so your make-up doesn’t matter to me. I know what you look like already.”

“Um, okay.”

“Also, every ten minutes, pull over to a safe place and send me a status report, such as, I still haven’t worked up the courage to leave the house, or I got up to Lincoln Blvd and then turned around.”

“Okay. You make it sound almost fun. The last time this sort of thing happened it was utterly miserable for me. Yet you can take something that was dramatic and miserable for me, and turn it into something I’m actually looking forward to doing.”

“I’m glad!”

“If you are this positive in real life, I can hardly wait to be with you.”

“I’m glad. Next, let’s imagine varying degrees of success as to your journey toward the Marina. If your trips out here were an Olympic event, what would the bronze medal be?”

“Well, probably making it all the way to your hotel. And then, why wouldn’t I get out? But, indeed, I might not. Also, now I feel ridiculous again, but that is your answer.”

“That’s fine. It doesn’t matter to me how typical people would answer that question. If I wanted someone typical I wouldn’t be focused on you.”

“It’s going to take me a long time to understand that you don’t just accept my weirdness but you actually value it.”

The blonde smiled. “It might. And so, what would be the silver medal?”

“Me parking and getting out of the car, and texting you that I’m there, and meeting you in the lobby. No, wait. I’ll upgrade my silver medal to… where you leave me a hotel room key in my name at the front desk, so that I can grab it and get into the pool area and meet you there. Is anybody else there right now?”

“No, I’m alone here. I like how you are thinking this through.”

“I would access the pool area and go there and see you in your yellow bikini as you look right now. I’d approach you and in private, for a very long time, you would give me a nice, warm hug. The gold medal would be where intimacy overwhelms us both, and you sit in your pool chair and I sit curled up in your lap with you holding me tightly, the two of us there, under the stars. I would so love that.”

“Do you feel up to trying your first trip tonight?”

“Yes! I’ll go get ready. What time does the pool area close?”

“Midnight.”

“That gives me enough time. Here I go. Bye!” The brunette hung up and decisively put her phone in her purse, and started to get ready.

“Bye,” the blonde said, with a happy smile.

A Terrified Brunette Reaches Out Nevertheless, Part 5

While the brunette was struggling with her internal conflict, the blonde was making plans intended to enable her to be around, if and when the brunette was ready to meet in person.

These plans included Joe, a gentleman who had tried to pick her up while she was having breakfast at a café near the beach. He had remained intrigued even after he learned that she was only interested in girls romantically. They had had a candid interaction that had established a sort of primally candid connection. Joe wasn’t quite sure how it had happened. It was very intense, and by his standards, very unusual.

He tried to comment on that, sitting across the breakfast table from the blonde. “It’s funny …” he said, searching for the right words, “I have just met you and yet I already feel a weird sort of deep connection with you, such as I haven’t felt in years. The last time was with a girlfriend with whom I had intense arguments much of the time. Great sex though, especially right after we made up,” he mused.

The blonde smiled.

“Now you’re back to being demure and mysterious again, but there’s something you about the you-and-I interaction that is forever different now,” he said, good-naturedly. Suddenly, he realized that normally he wouldn’t be thinking out loud in the presence of a girl who interested him. He said that out loud, too, and then also confessed that hiding his thoughts was usually his approach.

“It’s much better this way, isn’t it?” the blonde smiled.

“I don’t know,” he mused out loud. “It was sort of comforting to have the illusion that you were demure, bland and clueless, and that I had a chance of ending up in bed with you.”

“You still have a chance of ending up in bed with me but not with me pretending to be demure, bland and clueless. I’m just not potential girlfriend or romance material for you. I’d use you for sex, essentially. I’m not saying it’s going to happen but you seem to be ruling that out 100%, whereas I’m not,” she explained.

“Wait… I thought you are a lesbian?”

“I am but to me there’s still something primal and hot about sex with a guy. You just could never break my heart or make my tummy have butterflies.”

“So you’re bisexual then?”

“By your standards, perhaps, but not by mine. The emotional connection is a huge part of the package, for me. The sex I might be having with you would at best be emotionally superficial, for me. I wouldn’t fall in love with you, and I wouldn’t be attracted to you. I’d just like you as a person – enough to have sex with you.”

“You’re not exactly ruining it for me. In fact, you’ve just described perfection, by the standards of so many guys,” he admitted.

“I understand.”

“Isn’t it a little odd that you are considering having sex with me while you’re waiting for this other girl to come around? What is this — your last chance before your stuck in a monogamous relationship with a girlfriend?”

“That’s not at all how I function,” the blonde explained. “I already have a girlfriend. I’m polyamorous. If this local girl also signs up then I would have two girlfriends.”

“Gawd, how could you ever keep them a secret from each other?”

“I wouldn’t. I would keep each girl generally apprised of the developments concerning the other girl. They might even one day meet and become friends. They have certainly gone through the same selection process, and they have much in common. There is a certain type of mindset that I find attractive. My current girlfriend and the new potential girlfriend both have that mindset.”

“Mindset? That’s what you focus on?”

The blonde nodded.

“How about what they look like?”

“That takes care of itself. It’s hard to be objective about that, once I am so focused on her mindset. She tends to become more and more pretty to me even if she might not be pretty to you or to anybody else.” She thought about it for a few seconds, and then added: “Yet ironically, over the years, almost every girl who signed up did end up being exceptionally pretty even by your standards — because perhaps that goes with the mindset on which I’m focused. Now that I think about it… it indeed does.”

“Why?”

The blonde thought about it some more, then replied: “I think it’s because we try to overcompensate. We realize that our way of thinking is atypical compared to social norms. And, we have so much benevolence as part of our mental makeup, that we refuse to presume that we are fine and the rest of the people are problematic. So we benevolently give others the benefit of the doubt. We assume that we are problematic, and that typical people are fine — just because there are so many of them, and because at the time we make this decision we’re young and not nearly cynical enough. And so for many of us, that’s the rut in which we get stuck. Girls like us tend to resent ourselves for thinking the way we do, and we try to compensate for that, including by looking extra pretty. Even so, even if we succeed by general aesthetic standards, we never feel as pretty as we look to, for example, you.”

“You make girls like that sound like quite the catch.”

“We are. However, a girl with this mindset would probably drive you crazy. You would consider her complex, neurotic, overthinking everything, overly preoccupied with her emotions, moody, and generally incomprehensible.”

“Oh Gawd, the sex life with somebody like that would be horrible,” Joe exclaimed.

“With you, it probably would be, because the girl would feel misunderstood, underappreciated, inferior and frustrated… hardly situations that inspire openness.”

“And with you it’s different?”

“Not with me, specifically. I’m not unique in that sense. When two girls like that meet, we realize that we are with a like-minded being, and that we have an amazing mental connection. Then, we open up intellectually, emotionally and sexually more and more, as we realize and celebrate being with a kindred spirit. It’s wonderful.”

“It sounds like a horribly cheesy chick flick.”

“By your standards, it would.”

“Even so, you don’t seem neurotic or … I don’t recall everything you said … or moody,” Joe pointed out.

“I’ve made peace with who I am. Most girls like me have not. Until she accepts herself, a girl like that tries to live by the standards of typical people, by which she’s a social misfit. She tries harder and harder, yet is always unable to reach. She thinks that she’s trying to reach higher than she can, but really she’s trying to stoop lower than she can,” the blonde explained, and added: “no offense intended.”

“So what makes this mindset supposedly better?”

“It’s fundamentally serious, sincere and benevolent, seeing the world initially as full of promise and wonder – which, if everyone thought like that, it would be.”

Joe was quiet for a few long seconds, nodding pensively.

“There was a question I wanted to ask earlier on: what if a girl isn’t okay with you having another girlfriend?”

“Then we’d discuss her interests and concerns and find ways to meet them while also meeting mine.”

“And if, after all that, you don’t?”

“Then she shouldn’t be my girlfriend, right then.”

“How do you mean, right then?”

“That’s often what happens, initially. So, then we agree to just be friends, and after a while most girls have thought about it some more and resolved the concerns.”

“So how come you don’t have several girlfriends by now?”

“People come, people go. Their situations change. My situation changes. I aim for being with someone indefinitely but it doesn’t always work out that way.”

“So you have several ex-girlfriends by now?”

“Yes.”

“Wow, you probably should join the Federal witness protection program to hide from them all.”

“No breakup is pleasant but mostly afterwards, we are friends,” the blonde explained, and added with emphasis, “mostly. Also, rarely is it immediately afterward. Some initial distance is good, at first – sometimes a year or two, sometimes more. In one case, ten.”

“Wow, that must have been quite the break-up.”

“It was. But then we became good friends again, and then we reunited as girlfriends yet again too.”

“That sounds like a nightmare.”

“No, it was wonderful. Eight additional intense years together, with the vast majority of the time being super-happy.”

“And then you broke up again?”

“Yes.”

“And now you’re friends again?”

“Yes.”

“You must be from a different planet,” Joe opined, implying a compliment.

“No, it makes sense. With each girl, we loved each other for good reasons, and we had many shared values, and those probably continue to be in effect – hence, a good basis for a friendship.”

Joe shook his head. “I can’t imagine that. With me, it’s simply that I think the girl is hot. Really, she probably isn’t even all that hot but I rationalize that she is because she’s someone who is willing to have sex with me more than once. I then pretty much say and do whatever works though early on, she really is interesting to me. Soon thereafter, she’s not. Then the pendulum swings more yet, to where she’s downright boring. Then, it gets worse, to where I feel irritated. The first thing that irritates me is typically that she talks too much. Even so, I still pretend that she’s interesting to me, so that I get laid as often as I can but really by then I’d rather she leave so I can find someone new. So while saying that I value her, I treat her like sh … dirt more and more, until she finally objects to it and then we have a big fight and ideally we break up. The irony is that at that point she’ll still be trying to make it work whereas my only agenda is to get her angry enough to leave. You’d be amazed at how hard it can be to reach that point. Somehow it never feels right to me to tell the girl that it’s over, so I always arrange things so that she’s the one who breaks it up and that way I don’t feel guilty. I don’t really know why. The girl and I never had any shared values aside from liking sex, early on. I mean, wow, I have more of a rapport with you than most of the girls … actually, than with any girl I’ve slept with.”

His words hung in the air for a few seconds. He felt awkward. Jokingly, he peeked into his coffee cup and said, “what’s in this stuff, truth serum?”

To his amazement, the blonde had a calm smile, implying understanding.

“You’re not offended? Or surprised? Are you going to slap my face?”

“No. I understand guys’ mindset better than most girls probably do. I grew up in guy culture, and I studied guy culture, trying to emulate them though of course, having a female brain and female way of thinking, I couldn’t. In the process, I learned a lot. Not all guys are like you but a great many are. I don’t like it at all, but whether I do or don’t, I do appreciate your candor.”

“Thank you,” Joe said quietly, feeling deeply awkward. After a few long seconds, he cautiously asked, “what do you mean by growing up in guy culture and trying to emulate them?”

“I’m a trans girl,” she replied.

“Oh, wow! That explains the square jaw-line, how tall you are, and the nuance in your voice. I thought it’s maybe just your accent but … evidently not.”

The blonde being a trans girl then became the central focus of a long conversation. Joe seemed relieved to have been able to change the subject. He asked many questions, and she was open with her answers.

The food arrived and the blonde managed to steer the conversation back to light subjects, including making chitchat about the city they were in. Joe was surprised at how knowledgeable the blonde was about the place until she explained that she used to live there. They built a good informal rapport, over breakfast.

* * *

The blonde inquired whether Joe had anything scheduled for the next couple of hours. He hurriedly said that he didn’t. She asked him if he’d be willing to chauffeur her. He agreed enthusiastically. She explained that her first stop would be to buy a used laptop computer. There was one for sale in a very elegant neighborhood not too far from where they were.

Joe pointed out to her that she probably could get a much better deal in a more humble neighborhood. The blonde agreed, and then pointed out that she liked to decrease the likelihood that the computer being sold had been stolen. Joe smiled sheepishly and complimented her on her ethics.

He paid for the breakfast and they left. He led them to his car. As they approached it, he started apologizing that it wasn’t newer or more elegant, but she assured him that she liked that model. It was a BMW 740iL, perhaps twenty years old.

“Yeah, it’s not much and it’s ancient,” Joe said, “but it gets me around.” The blonde pointed out that that particular engine and transmission were high-quality, and legendary. Joe was a little perplexed but he asked more details, and listened with interest as she explained. He asked her how she knew that. She explained that she’s into classic cars, and that she owned a car just like that — that very-same model, and perhaps even the exact same model year.

“Wait, you drive a car like this?” Joe asked, amazed.

“I don’t drive it. I own it. I bought it for $360.”

“Oh. So it doesn’t run.”

“It does run, but I don’t drive every car I own. I bought this car to analyze it. I take parts off it, wash them, look up the part numbers, inspect the parts, take pictures, enter the data in my database and then put the parts back on the car if they’re in good condition.”

He laughed incredulously. “Why would you do that?”

“I enjoy it, and it’s also part of the business model for my used-car-parts company.”

“Wait… You run a junkyard?”

“It’s not a junkyard. I buy used parts and I sell them. Buy low, sell high,” she explained.

“Where do you get them from?”

“Junkyards.”

“You — in a junkyard? That’s hard to imagine.”

The blonde smiled in reply.

“There’s good money in it?”

“There can be, but I mainly earn a living by developing custom business database software for paying clients.”

Joe was silent for a few seconds, processing all this. Then, he asked:

“So, tell me some more about my car, since you seem to know more about it than I do.”

“Well, the 5-speed transmission in this particular model is wonderful but after 15 to 20 years the pressure regulator gets worn out, to the point where it allows a pressure spike, that destroys the forward clutch drum and then the car has only fifth gear for going forward.”

Joe’s jaw dropped. “Losing the first four forward gears is exactly what happened five years ago. It cost me four grand to have it rebuilt.“

The blonde smiled. “Now you know why.”

Joe shot her an odd look and continued to drive.

Forty-five minutes and $200 later, the blonde owned a nice used Windows laptop. She asked Joe to next take her to her bank, and while he drove, she reset the computer back to its factory-original settings, then started setting it up, the way she liked it. Joe at some point asked her what she was doing, and when she explained, he shook his head some more.

After she’d withdrawn some money from the bank, Joe asked: “Where next, your Majesty?”

The blonde smiled. “I like the title and the implied dynamic,” she replied. “Next, we go buy a car.”

“Wait, what? How long are you planning to stay here?”

“I’m not sure yet. It depends on more factors than I can synthesize into a simple answer. Bottom line, I haven’t bought a plane ticket back either, so I might just drive the car back to Nevada.”

Joe laughed. “You sure go about things in an unusual way,” he said, shaking his head.

“It’s logical though, isn’t it?” the blonde asked, more as a statement than a question.

Joe had to agree with her. “So, what kind of car are you buying?”

“An Audi A6 Quattro.”

“Wow. So you are just going to drop 65 grand on a car while you happen to be here?” He shook his head, laughing, then added: “Well, you’re in luck. Since we are in this nice neighborhood, there’s an Audi dealership not far away.”

“I don’t pay that much. I get a discount,” the blonde explained.

“Somehow, I’m not surprised,” Joe said. “How much discount?”

“99%. I’m paying $650 for this one.”

“Oh my Gawd, you’re buying a old, used Audi? You’re either brave or you’re crazy. Do you know how vastly complicated those cars are? And, what model year is that car anyway?”

“It’s a 2000.”

“Wow, I thought you were smart. You know … there’s a reason why people prefer new cars, or slightly-used cars,” Joe said, condescendingly.

“Let me put this in girlfriend terms, for you. What would be the perfect-age girlfriend for you?”

“Honestly?”

“That seems to be the underlying premise in our conversation, so let’s stick to that, yes.”

“An 18-year-old — don’t hate me,” Joe said, hesitantly.

“So a girl of that age would be the equivalent of a brand-new Audi, for you, yes?”

Joe looked surprised, laughed and then agreed — somewhat sheepishly.

The blonde continued: “So, an Audi that’s four or five years old — how old would that be, in girlfriend terms?”

“That’s just about pushing the limit,” Joe admitted. He looked at her warily. “You’re okay with all this honesty, right?”

The blonde nodded and smiled. “I’m not implying that I agree with your values. I don’t. But it’s an interesting-to-me conversation. So what does that translate to, in girlfriend years?”

Joe brightened up. “I see where you’re going with this. Well … probably in her late 20s. Like I said … pushing the limit.”

The blonde continued: “So applying the principle, an Audi that’s 10 years old might be…?”

Joe thought hard. “Well, that’s beyond what I’d really want to deal with,” he mused, “but maybe, still barely okay in exceptional conditions. So … maybe she’d be in her mid-30s?”

“So what if an Audi is 17 years old?”

Joe laughed derisively. “That’s like somebody who is way too old to be girlfriend material.”

“… for you,” the blonde gently added.

“Wait, you would actually choose an older chick?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I like experience, and predictability. I like a proven track record. That’s true with an older girl and with an Audi like this — because I am likely to better understand what I’m dealing with.”

Joe laughed again, not kindly. “Now you sound like a friend of mine who can’t pick up hot chicks and he rationalizes settling for ugly women.”

The blonde looked at him coolly. Many seconds went by.

“You’re offended, yes?” Joe asked, cautiously.

“I don’t agree with your implied premise, but for you to offend me, several conditions would need to be met, and most of them have not been.”

“Wow, do you always sound so mathematical?”

“No.”

“So you could get a young hot chick but you chose to have an older chick?” Joe asked, sincerely trying to make sense of it all.

“It doesn’t work like that. I like this girl. She just happens to not be young any more. I understand that, by your mindset, that’s a negative — but by my standards, it’s not. It’s actually a positive, at least potentially.”

“But would you still take her, if she were 18, or in her 20s?” Joe asked.

“In my experience, 25 and up is a good age for potential girlfriend material,” the blonde replied, gently.

“Something tells me your current girlfriend is 25.”

The blonde smiled. “She’s not. By your standards, she’s too old too.”

“You’re just settling, and rationalizing it,” Joe accused her. The blonde shook her head calmly, not caring what he thought. She gave him an address and asked him to drive there. He offered to type it into his GPS but right then, her phone announced that he should make a right turn in half a mile.

“Okay, you’re ahead of me,” he admitted.

“You have no idea,” her quiet smile said.

“So this new potential girlfriend of yours, she has this weird complex mindset that you like dealing with, right?”

The blonde nodded.

“So it’s kind of like … if she were a car she would be an Audi. Tremendously complicated. Yes?”

“Yes, but I prefer the adjective of ‘interesting.’ The analogy applies in other ways too: with the right attention, able to thrive and add lots of value in a high-quality experience.”

“Both aspects sound terrifying to me, whether Audi or girl,” Joe admitted. “It’s a good thing that there are girls like you, who can appreciate this kind of … thing.”

The blonde nodded, feeling mellow and enjoying the urban scenery she knew so well.

“So she used to be hot, this girl?” Joe asked.

“She used to be, yes — and she still is. By my standards, not yours. Until you see her, that is. Then, your standards will probably get revised hurriedly.”

“Okay, I’ll grant you that some chicks can be hot even in their late 30s but that’s rare,” Joe admitted. “I trust she’s not older than that.”

The blonde laughed, shaking her head. “Joe, you’re missing out.”

“So prove me wrong.”

“No. You’re stating opinions, not facts, and you’re welcome to your opinions. When you say a girl is hot, it simply means: by your standards. You’re not able to claim that objectively, universally, the girl is hot, or not.”

Joe shook his head again, laughing. “Are you always this logical?”

“No, but I try to be,” the blonde smiled.

“Did you have a picture of this girl?” Joe asked.

“Yes.”

“May I see it?”

“No.”

Joe sulked for a while. Then, seeing the blonde look calmly happy, he admitted defeat: “The silent treatment doesn’t work very well with you, does it?” he said.

The blonde shook her head, smiling. Soon, they were at the seller’s driveway, in a very elegant neighborhood.

“Wow, said Joe, “this car looks really good.”

“Even though by your standards, it’s old?”

“Point taken,” Joe laughed.

“Also, for your consideration, I’m not young either, by your standards … very much not.”

“That’s a good point,” Joe conceded. “The dynamic with you is just so intense I didn’t think of that until now.”

Joe didn’t pick up on the irony, that this implied he understood the blonde’s approach — of focusing on the mental connection and not the girl’s age — so much that he was using it himself, in this case. He asked: “How old are you, anyway?”

“As if I would tell you?” she smiled. She focused on the car, and he followed her example.

“It’s hard to imagine that the guy advertised the car for 650 bucks and it’s still here,” Joe said.

“He didn’t. He advertised it for $600. I offered him $650.”

“You what?!”

“Not a decision that I feel like explaining right now, or perhaps ever. Okay, I’m going in. Please stay in your car. Guy macho dynamics tend to complicate my negotiations.”

“Yeah, I was about to say, I could probably argue him down another hundred bucks or so on your behalf, but since you’re paying more than he asked for — I wouldn’t even know what to say,” Joe admitted. That earned him another smile.

The blonde unplugged the laptop computer from the car charger, and closed the computer, then plugged in a white cable that she had removed from her purse.

“What’s that?”

“The reason why people like you don’t appreciate a complex girl, is because you don’t listen to her. She might have a lot to tell you. The analogy applies to this Audi. I’m going to ask some questions and really care about the answers, and pay attention, and analyze them. You see the analogy, yes?”

Joe grinned sheepishly. “You seem to know what you’re doing, obviously,” he admitted. “With Audis, anyway. Good luck. I’ll be here. Maybe you need to jumpstart it, and then I can help.”

“That would be like injecting adrenaline directly into a girl’s heart. If the battery does need charging, we will gently and properly charge it, taking all the time we need.” The blonde walked off, sending the Audi owner a text message to announce her arrival.

Joe tried to discern what was happening. He saw her plug her laptop cable into the Audi, and then she was in an intense and positive conversation with the gentleman. She opened the hood of the Audi and pointed. He laughed and seemed delighted at their conversation. He produced a document that she read carefully. Then, she held out a straight arm towards the man in a gesture inviting, in an elegant and feminine way, a formal handshake. He shook her hand vigorously. She handed him some cash, and he handed over a document. Next, the man opened the passenger side door, and pointed inside, then said a few more things, then did the same as to the trunk.

Smiling happily, the blonde returned to Joe, who commented wryly: “well, the guy looks like he’s in love with you. I hope you told him that you only like girls. Except for sex, that is,“ he added dryly.

“My dear Joe, do you feel jealous?” the blonde asked.

He was about to utter an angry denial but the calm brown eyes resting on his made him slow down, and stop, and think. “I guess I am,” he admitted.

“Thank you,” she said. “Anyway, the deal is done. He has the money and I have the signed, clear title. The Audi used to be a source of frustration to him because he didn’t understand it. Now, he’s happy to see it going to someone who appreciates it, who will take good care of it, and with whom it will thrive.”

“I really hope that the girl you’re planning to meet isn’t married and that this isn’t another analogy for your plan,” Joe said, sardonically.

The blonde chose to not respond.

“So, does it start?”

“I assume so. He said it would. And based on the computer read-out, it should.”

“Oh Gawd, you spent $650 on a car without starting it?”

“No, I decided to give him $700 because it’s so nice.”

Joe laughed for lack of knowing what else to say. “So, now what?”

“Now I add it to my insurance, while the seller installs on it a $300 ski rack that he’d planned to sell separately. He’ll also load into the trunk the original BOSE stereo unit and a car cover that he’d also planned to sell separately, plus some special rims that he’s already advertising for $600 and has gotten several calls on, yet now is donating to me. Also, front seat sheepskin covers, albeit not new,“ the blonde said gently.

“Wow, so you did grind him after all.”

“No, I just gave him the $700 and he volunteered all of that.”

“Oh, you manipulated him?”

“Joe, sometimes the simplest and correct answer might just be that people are nice.”

Joe started to argue, then stopped, and thought about it, then said “yeah, maybe” and sat there, looking guilty and pensive. He tried to change the subject.

“So what did you learn from your computer?”

“The car is fine but has a major vacuum leak plus a blown coolant fan fuse. These caused a chain reaction of intimidating issues, including that someone had quoted him a price of $2,000 to get the car to pass a smog test. Ironically, these are easy-to-fix issues. Some minor repairs and it’ll be purring like a kitten again.”

“I really hope that’s not yet another analogy to your fantasy girl.”

The blonde thought about it, laughed, and said, “she’s very real, but the analogy does actually fit. I’d love to see her as happy and relaxed as a purring kitten.”

She called her insurance company and extended the coverage to include that car. The license tags were still current, and so based on a liberal interpretation of the law, it was minimally legal for her to drive it for thirty more days before needing to take it to Nevada, and then title and register it there. She figured that this was good enough. She called in an order for the parts, and by then the Audi was ready to go. She hugged the selller, and promised to bring the Audi by after she’d fixed the issues, so he could get the satisfaction of seeing it in better shape.

“You make this all look so easy,” Joe complimented her.

“It is, with the right principles,” she replied. “Follow me back to the beach area. I’m buying you a nice lunch as a thank-you.”

He brightened up.

“You have my number, so call me if you fall behind,” she added.

“As if,” he said.

She made a point of not losing him, and she led the way to a nice little restaurant she knew. Before getting out of the car, she removed her bra and left it on the front seat. Joe had been surreptitiously glancing at her boobs all day, and she decided that he might as well get an eyeful, as a reward for being so helpful. She walked toward him and watched his eyes go wide, then told him that he was welcome to stare as much as he liked.

It took him a while to regain his composure and make eye contact again. Then, during lunch, Joe inquired as to how she knew so much about cars. She replied that her dad had been an engineer and had worked on his own cars, and had taught her. Also, being a trans girl, she had early-on been told to behave like a boy, and initially she had bought into that. Excelling at automotive mechanics had seemed to be a good way of coming across as macho enough to survive socially.

After lunch, Joe told her that he’d learned a lot, and had had a most enjoyable day. He admitted that he had a lot to go think about. He also admitted that he wanted to see her again soon, and he asked her out to dinner. She declined, but agreed tentatively to a dinner date the following evening.

Joe asked one more question. “Do you normally fly around carrying an Audi diagnostics cable?”

“No,” the blonde admitted. “I had just considered the sequence of events to be a reasonable possibility, and I prepared accordingly.”

Joe shook his head incredulously. “You’re now officially the weirdest person I’ve ever met,” he said.

“You seem to mean it as a compliment.”

“Amazingly… it is,” he admitted. She gave him a good-bye hug, which he returned awkwardly. She walked cheerfully back to her new-to-her Audi, then drove back to her hotel.

She changed into a swimsuit and sat in the shade by the pool, working on her new-to-her laptop computer, to get half a day’s worth of billable productive software development work fitted into her afternoon schedule. Now and then, she checked her incoming messages to see if the brunette was showing signs of life.

* * *

When the brunette finally woke up, it was dusk. Her throat was parched. She felt miserable. She dragged herself to the bathroom. She knew that she was deeply dehydrated.

She went to the kitchen and drank some water, and made some coffee, with barely enough energy to do that. She sat at the kitchen table, slumped forward. Her mind was focused on the blonde. What would she say, if she were there now? Probably very little. She would probably have stood behind the brunette, gently massaging her shoulders and her back, while saying comforting things.

“I wish you were here,” the brunette thought, and then felt ridiculous because all it would take was one phone call.

She noticed that she’d carried her phone with her to the bathroom and the kitchen. She picked it up and turned it on. She resisted the temptation to read any of the messages that had come in.

She focused on one social media site, and saw that the blonde had posted a picture earlier that morning, of herself standing by the ocean, and announcing that she was staying in the city for a few days. The hidden message to the brunette was: “I’m still here, I’m patient and you are worth waiting for.”

The brunette shook her head, thinking, “I don’t deserve it.” How would the blonde have responded? “By the standards of typical people, you don’t,” she would probably have said. “But, those standards are flawed.”

The brunette smiled wryly. What would the blonde have wanted her to do? Arrange a meeting?

With a shock, the brunette realized that the blonde would not have wanted her to arrange a meeting until she was ready. And, she wasn’t ready. She was still conflicted. Had she shown up in person physically yet mentally reticent, it would indeed have been counterproductive. So, she was actually doing exactly what the blonde would have wanted: process her thoughts, and work through her resistance. She felt proud when she realized that by the standards of the blonde, she was doing the right thing.

She imagined hearing the blonde’s voice saying: “good girl.” The brunette was about to shake her head “no,” but that was the one phrase she dared not deny herself, even in her imagination. The phrase hung in her mind: outshining everything else.

On impulse, and completely out of context, against her every expectation, without reading any of the messages that the blonde had sent her, and yet with certainty that it was the right thing to do, she picked up her phone and texted the blonde: “Am I still your good girl?”

“You’re still my good girl,” came the reply, less than a minute later. Then, another message: “Take care of my good girl. She’s precious to me. Make sure she gets enough water, and enough healthy food. Her mind is so intense that she might forget those things and neglect the slender body that I look forward to holding in my arms… but not before she’s ready.”

The brunette’s eyes burned. Had she not been severely dehydrated, tears would have pooled up in her eyes. She typed: “I’ll take good care of her for you. I don’t know when she’ll be ready for you. It might take a long time, but I promise to keep her healthy for you.”

“Thank you. Good girl. Please check in once a day. The question you asked is the perfect way to start the conversation, for each day. Good night. :-)”

“Good night,” the brunette texted with burning eyes.

She carefully drank some more water, and opened the refrigerator door, actively analyzing the contents, to find the healthiest food that she could reasonably eat, to keep her promise to the blonde with the utmost enthusiasm.

A Terrified Brunette Reaches Out Nevertheless, Part 4

The brunette knew that the events of that evening would set the course of her life. She felt a grave responsibility, mixed with happy excitement. She hated the idea of being late to anything, but especially to meet the soon-to-arrive blonde at the airport. The timing was bad: it was peak traffic time in that city, plus there had been a major accident on the freeway, causing major delays near the airport.

Ironically, there was a good chance that it would take the brunette longer to drive the couple of dozen miles to the airport than it would take the blonde to fly in from hundreds of miles away. Fortunately, the brunette had anticipated that possibility, so she had planned to start out early. She had gotten dressed quickly and had put on make-up quickly but well. She looked as lovely as she was likely to look without additional nuances added in by professional make-up artists and hair stylists.

Several hundred miles north of the brunette, the blonde passed through Reno airport security checkpoint without delay. She arrived at the departure gate with twenty minutes to spare. She smiled, paused, and texted to the brunette “I’m excited to see you! I’m at the gate” along with the flight number, terminal and estimated time of arrival.

When the text message from the blonde arrived, the brunette was already in her car, about to pull out of her driveway and begin her drive to the airport. The brunette glanced at her phone, saw the new message and smiled. She was about to phrase an encouraging reply, but somehow wasn’t sure quite what to say.

A few seconds went by. She tried harder to come up with something appropriate to say. Gradually, she felt more and more awkward. More time passed, slowly and excruciatingly. She stared at the phone, still not knowing what to say. “OK” would suffice at a minimum, she thought – but she wanted to say so much more. Instead, she said nothing. She felt paralyzed, and slowly became terrified at the idea that she might never come up with a response. She felt the terror become reality.

Tears welled up in her eyes. She put her phone down slowly, and sat in her car, silently crying, for a few minutes. Eventually, her crying got louder. A few minutes later, she was wailing like a very young girl with the sadness that so many young children can experience and show so easily. By contrast, the brunette hadn’t cried in this way in many years. Through her tears, she could barely make out the shape of her phone. She picked it up and stared at it, squeezing it hard. “I’m sorry,” she said silently to the phone, while still crying. She tried to verbalize, “I’m so sorry” though her crying made the words hard to articulate. Several minutes went by, each one excruciating. She felt overwhelmed with inadequacy and an immobilizing fear, and yet a rising tide of guilt soon drowned these out as she realized she could never make it to the airport in this state of mind, and the blonde was flying all this way to meet someone who would not appear.

She sat in her car, hating herself. A few more minutes went by.

* * *

Her husband was about to go run an errand, and he was about to close the front door behind him when he saw his wife’s car parked in the driveway, with her sitting inside. He stopped and stood still, observing. A long minute went by.

She seemed to just be sitting there, her head bowed.

He looked at her pensively. He somehow guessed that the trip to the airport, to meet her new blonde friend — or whatever she was to his wife — had been cancelled. As to the reason, he guessed that the blonde had changed her mind at the last minute and had just announced it, and that his wife was emotionally processing the disappointment.

He had a complex blend of mixed feelings about this, but even so, one of them was pity. He saw his wife slowly get out of the car, then swing the car door shut behind her without noticing that it didn’t latch completely. She slowly walked back toward the house, looking down as she walked. She eventually noticed him standing there but didn’t say anything.

“Change of heart?” he asked, as gently as he thought appropriate.

Ironically, she and her husband had mis-communicated even with those three words. He’d meant, “Your blonde friend had a change of heart, didn’t she?” whereas the brunette had interpreted it as “you had a change of heart, didn’t you?”

She barely nodded in reply. Looking broken-hearted, she slowly walked past him to her bedroom. She closed the door, dropped her purse and keys on the floor, and kicked off her shoes. She got into her bed and lay there for a long time, awake, feeling horrible.

Ninety minutes later, she heard the arrival of the text message she’d been dreading. As she’d feared, it was from the blonde, cheerfully announcing that her flight had landed, and announcing what she was wearing so that the brunette could easily recognize her when picking her up at the curb.

Lying in her bed, the brunette curled up into a fetal position She knew she wasn’t going to answer. She lay there, awaiting and dreading the next text message, announcing that the blonde was standing at the curb, ready to be picked up.

When she heard her phone announce the arrival of that next text message, she jolted as if by electrical shock. Guilt flowed warmly through her and drowned out everything else. She slowly turned and slid to the side of the bed, then down to the floor. She crawled to her purse, then rummaged for her phone, and turned it off. She considered climbing back on the bed, and decided not to. She pulled the sheet off the bed and over her, and lay on the floor, covered by that single sheet. Her mind filled with self-reproach, she lay there for another hour, then fell asleep and slept for twelve hours.

* * *

The blonde hadn’t expected an easy victory. She understood that the brunette sometimes felt overwhelmed and that today would be very stressful for the brunette, even though the arrival of the blonde was intended to herald a new, happier era for the brunette.

When the brunette didn’t respond to any of the text messages, the blonde guessed correctly as to what had happened. She also guessed correctly as to the mental anguish that the brunette was feeling, and she wished there was a way to comfort the brunette.

Nevertheless, in case another explanation such as a lost phone applied, the blonde stood by the curb and waited. She checked her messages and the relevant social media sites for alternate ways of messaging her. She saw nothing from the brunette. She sent the brunette a few follow-up messages using various avenues, yet she got no reply.

She made sure that she didn’t let her own discomfort affect her plans, so she made a point of standing by the curb for sixty minutes. She next slowly walked around in case there had been some confusion as to the terminal, though she was clear that the chances for that were slim.

Finally, she decided to go with plan B, and she booked a hotel not far from the airport nor far from the beach, yet in a nice-enough area. She put on comfortable shoes and went for a long sunset walk, reaching the beach after about an hour, just early enough to see the air above the horizon still have a light hint of orange in the light blue of the western sky. She walked along the beach, thinking about the events of the day.

She wished the brunette were next to her, so that she could put her arm around the brunette and hold her tightly as if to say, “You’re sad now but things will get better. Please don’t reproach yourself. You are weighed down by the negative effects of an emotionally difficult life, so it’s understandable to me that you’d often feel overwhelmed. I sympathize.”

Then, the brunette would ask, “you’re not upset that I didn’t meet you at the airport?” and the blonde would smile and shake her head, and would gently reply: “I understand that you’re doing the best you can. I didn’t expect our journey together – and before that, our journey toward each other – to be an easy one, for you.”

* * *

The blonde stood near a palm tree, watching the ocean and the twinkling lights of the buildings along the shoreline. She mentally analyzed several “what-if” scenarios as to what had most likely happened, and what would happen next, and how she could influence things for the best. She stood there for a long time, her long hair gently stirring in the warm evening breeze.

A small group of young, not-so-sober guys came ambling along the beach path, in her general direction. Barely within earshot, she could hear one of them mumble, “check that OUT” referring to her, and them some general mumbling and nervous laughter. The guys all became focused on her, as they slowly approached. Two of them started loudly mock-arguing that they knew her from somewhere, with their plan being to then ask her about it, thus having an icebreaker as to starting a conversation with the tall blonde whose figure they liked, as far as they could tell from some distance away.

When they were close by, she looked at them askew with the cynicism of a parent whose seven-year old was about to attempt a clumsy social manipulation ploy, doomed to fail from the outset. The mood of the guys ebbed into silence as they approached. They felt the “don’t even try it” vibe so strongly and negatively that they felt subdued, and slunk away. Once they were almost out of earshot, they mumbled self-justifying platitudes to each other to the general theme that they had just been friendly and there had been no need for this girl to treat them so icily.

Once the guys were some distance away, the brunette sighed and turned to walk in the opposite direction. She found a cute café, and ordered a light snack, noting which vegetarian and vegan dishes they had on the menu, for when she’d bring the brunette there one day. She viewed the events of the day as part of a journey that, eventually, would end up with the two of them being happily together. As long as she remained patient and accepting, the only variables were as to “how” and “when” — not “if.”

By the time the blonde had finished her supper, it was close to 10 p.m. She arranged for automotive transportation and was soon back at her hotel. Half an hour later, she was soaking happily in a warm bathtub, and not too long after, she was in bed. As she lay there, thinking about her day, she concluded that she was helping the brunette as much as she could, and wanting to do more yet was pointless. Soon, the blonde was peacefully asleep, concerned about her protégé yet hopeful for the future

* * *

Shortly before noon, the brunette awoke. She recoiled in horror when she recalled the events of the previous evening. Shame and guilt flooded her consciousness. She thought about where the blonde might be, and she wondered what the blonde was thinking.

The brunette felt aching muscles from having slept on the hard floor. She crawled slowly onto the bed, then turned onto her back and felt her tears well up again. She stared at the ceiling, watching its crisp sides where it adjoined the walls. She watched the sharp lines blur as her tears affected her vision.

The volume of tears was a new development. Previously her sadness had had a sort of acrid, dry bitterness. She thought of how the blonde would react to the new development, as to her crying more tears instead of being just quietly and bitterly sad. The blonde would probably think it an improvement, and probably would say something encouraging about it.

Somehow this brought forth more tears. She knew of only one person who would be interested in, and encouraging about, the nuances of her sadness, and how strange a bond she had with the blonde. She thought about whether the blonde was currently sad too. She thought hard, trying to envision it. She couldn’t really imagine that, mostly because she couldn’t imagine the blonde giving up on her.

By every typical standard she knew, the brunette’s behavior had been reprehensible. She thought it’d be a relief to her if the blonde would evaluate things that way, and then check out permanently. She wondered how the blonde would have announced it … perhaps with a parting message of “even by my exceptionally lenient standards and with extreme patience with your eccentricity, this went too far” and then some sort of final farewell. She lay there, imagining she saw such a message, and how she would feel knowing that all hope would be gone. She felt her tears drying up and the acrid bitterness returning.

She thought about how else the blonde might react. She considered the possibility that the blonde would be understanding and forgiving, ever patient. The brunette realized with a shock that this was indeed a possibility. She tried to dismiss that as outrageous but deep down, she knew that this was the most likely scenario. Somehow this brought forth new tears again, and the lines at the edges of the ceiling blurred again.

She noticed the difference. When she thought the blonde was probably still in her future, somehow, she was sad and she cried tears at not being able to reciprocate. When she thought the blonde was probably lost forever, she was sad in a very different way. Interesting… She realized that she was giving in to her emotions and simply feeling whatever she was feeling, being self-aware but without resisting. She knew full well that she’d learned this from the blonde.

She decided to verbalize how she felt. “I feel so sad,” she said, and more tears flowed. She gave in to the feeling, embracing it head-on. She collapsed into sadness, not resisting it. She repeated the words every now and then, saying out loud how she felt. She kept doing this until she became aware that she somehow felt … less sad. Wow.

This bothered her. She felt the need to be punished, in all fairness. She deserved to be miserable. Her feeling less sad somehow seemed unfair to her. She lay there, pondering her own thoughts. She felt ridiculous at all of this. Realizing it, she verbalized that, too. “I feel SO ridiculous,” she said aloud. She dwelled on it. She said it another few times. A minute or so later, she oddly felt less ridiculous too. She was shocked at how well this approach was working.

She slowly cycled through several more negative emotions, spending a minute or two on each one. She felt awkward knowing that she’d learned this technique from the blonde. As a sort of homage to the blonde, she made a point of using these techniques.

She felt as if she were in exile. She said that aloud too, several seconds apart. Somehow that changed nothing. She pondered that. Being in exile, she decided, wasn’t really a feeling. Probably that’s why processing it as a feeling didn’t work. What, then, was the feeling underneath being in exile? Loneliness?

“I feel lonely,” she said, several times. She wondered why this didn’t change how she felt either. She pondered that. With a shock, she realized that she didn’t feel lonely. She felt the opposite. She tried to think why this was the case, and she realized that she still considered the blonde to be part of her life. She tried to convince herself that her own behavior last night had been the final straw and that the blonde had given up and left, permanently. Somehow, deep down, the brunette knew that this wasn’t the most likely scenario. She took a deep breath and slowly released it. She didn’t know why she felt so sure about the blonde’s mindset, and yet she was. She couldn’t convince herself that the blonde was truly gone. Against every typical social standard she knew, she felt hopeful.

She pondered that and then realized that the two of them didn’t fit typical social standards. That was the entire premise behind their mutual attraction, deep down, intellectually. They were each atypical and yet they fundamentally thought the same about the basic principles of life. The two girls’ personal styles were so different — yet that intellectual foundation, they shared. She smiled and loved how hopeful she felt.

She realized with bad foreboding that feeling hopeful was an emotion too, and that naming and accepting her negative feelings had somehow made them each diminish or vanish, over the last half hour. Would the same happen with positive feelings? If so, would this stop her feeling hopeful? Would this new technique doom her to be an emotionless robot? She was aghast at the thought. She decided to find out. “I feel hopeful,” she said aloud, basking in the feeling and the premise that she and the blonde remained close and that the blonde understood her well enough to be forgiving. In spite of her best intentions for self-flagellation, she smiled. She caught herself doing so, and immediately felt ridiculous about that.

“Okay, then, let’s go down that rabbit hole too,” she thought and said, “I feel ridiculous” and really dwelled on it. The feeling of ridiculousness slowly evaporated.

She went back to focusing on how hopeful she felt as to the blonde. She dwelled on that emotion too – and realized that it became gradually stronger. Wow! She was amazed. This technique was SO useful. It enabled her to diminish negative emotions yet increase positive ones. She felt empowered and delighted.

She pondered the basis of her hope. The events of last night were the true test of the depth of her dynamic with the blonde, she realized. She hadn’t intended it to be a test but if the blonde understood and forgave that the brunette had been overwhelmed … they certainly belonged together, the brunette decided. Actually, regardless of whether or not they were physically together, if she and the blonde were still in a dynamic, then they were already together intellectually and emotionally anyway, the brunette realized. She felt a warm glow.

She felt strangely cheated. She’d wanted to punish herself in the best way she knew how – emotionally – but instead, she was feeling better by the minute. She tried to find a negative emotion that would punish her because, at some level, that’s what she thought she deserved.

“I feel ashamed,” she said aloud and she applied the standards of typical people to her behavior, chastising herself. That was indeed effective. She did feel shame – deep shame. She repeated, “I feel ashamed” and felt the emotion deeply. She imagined every typical person she cared about, hearing what she’d done and then commenting negatively on her behavior. As she imagined that, she felt more and more shame. She let the feeling wash over her. “I feel SO ashamed,” she said aloud, and dwelled on it. After a couple of minutes of doing this, she lost interest in dwelling on the reactions of typical people. To her amazement, she realized that she felt slightly bored at dwelling on being ashamed mostly because, aside from perhaps a slight twinge, she didn’t feel ashamed any more, either.

She imagined how the blonde would have commented on her behavior. She tried to guess what the blonde was doing, right then. She imagined the blonde had checked into a nice hotel near the airport – not too close to it, and perhaps in a nicer neighborhood, perhaps in the area where the blonde used to live, in that same city. She thought hard, envisioning the likely events. The blonde was probably having breakfast. She guessed at the blonde’s state of mind, and imagined her having a leisurely breakfast. She imagined the blonde having a conversation with a stranger about the brunette’s behavior.

* * *

Not so coincidentally, just such a conversation was about to happen. Well-rested, calm and fundamentally happy even though she was concerned about the brunette, the blonde sat in a café near the beach and had just ordered breakfast. A single guy at a nearby table was trying to chat her up:

“Lovely morning, isn’t it?” he started out.

The blonde smiled and nodded. The guy felt encouraged, and looked at her appraisingly. He liked what he saw.

“With so many movies having been made, and so many actors in each movie, even with overlap, there must be tens of thousands of actors and actresses around, and sooner or later the odds are I’ll run into one,” he said, pausing to see the effect.

The blonde smiled, enjoying the irony.

“You remind me of a tall blonde who was in a movie about an Olympic athlete … what was her name?” he paused.

The blonde just smiled.

“That wasn’t you, in that movie, was it? You look too young, but you’re also kinda tall, seems like. How tall are you?”

“Five twelve,” the blonde replied. The guy was startled and laughed. “Wow, six feet tall. That does sound tall but ‘five twelve’ sounds more feminine somehow. Very cute,” he smiled. “Clever of you to come up with that,” he added.

“I didn’t. I got that from the actress you’re referencing. She and I are the same height so I use her phrase.”

“Oh, so you know exactly whom I’m talking about. What was the name of the movie? And the actress.?” He waited and the seconds ticked by, as the blonde just smiled at him.

“Mysterious, are you? Well, your accent makes you more mysterious. What IS that accent? Swedish?”

“It’s a blend of things, mostly German.”

“Gooten Tahk”, I’m Joe.”

“Hi Joe, I’m into girls, not guys but I appreciate that you’re friendly.”

He sat quietly, processing this. He decided to be open with her.

“You’re still more friendly to me than most straight girls are, hereabouts. I’m amazed anyone in this city meets anyone socially. Girls are so aloof..”

The blonde smiled again, and pointed to the open seat at her table, as in “join me.”

Joe scurried over, far too quickly and eagerly to be cool about it.

“So I understand I have no chance with you, but you intrigue me. I like your … air.”

Another smile.

“Maybe you just haven’t met the right guy,” he said hopefully.

“Are you straight?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am, 100% American red-blooded male, 100% straight.”

“Maybe you just haven’t met the right guy,” she said mischievously. He was shocked, and then laughed out loud. “Okay, wow, I deserved that,” he smiled, shaking his head. “Now I like you even more,” he added. A waitress appeared and took his order. “Separate checks?” she asked. “Nope,” he announced. “Breakfast is on me.” The blonde thanked him.

“You’re not from here, are you?”

The blonde shook her head.

“So what brings you to our lovely city?”

“I met a girl online, and we connected there so I came to meet her in person.”

“Figures,” Joe mumbled. “Just my luck. I find my dream girl and she’s a lesbian. Anyway, I wish you both eternal happiness. When do you meet her?”

“Perhaps I don’t.”

“How do you mean?”

“We were supposed to meet last night, but she didn’t show up.”

Joe laid it on thickly, seeing also a potential “in” for his gamesmanship. He expressed his deepest sympathy and then said several bad things about the other girl. “You need cheering up,” he added clumsily and then realized he was overdoing it. “Did she at least tell you why?”

The blonde shook her head. This triggered another barrage of insults aimed at the other girl. Joe assured her that he’d also been stood up many times, and how much he hated that. “Ghosting,” he called it. He went on and on.

“So now what?” he asked the blonde.

“Now I buy a used laptop computer, so that I can work remotely, so that I can viably stay here another few days, waiting for her to come around.”

“Wait, you’re still hopeful?”

The blonde nodded.

“You’re degrading herself. I would never give someone like that another chance.”

The blonde smiled.

“So you’re staying at a local hotel, extending your stay until, if ever, she comes around?” he asked incredulously.

“Not forever, no,” the blonde corrected him.

“Look, a nice hotel hereabouts isn’t cheap, and I have a nice place so you’re totally welcome to come crash at my place and save yourself two, three hundred bucks a night…”

“You’re sweet but for now I’m saying ‘no thank you.’”

“I’m not that sweet, I’m totally planning to seduce you. You need cheering up. You need to be appreciated.”

“Do I not seem cheerful?”

He paused and stared. “You actually do,” he conceded. “You shouldn’t be. You should feel indignant, and mad, and hurt,” he added, and then realized how ridiculous he was sounding. He waited several long seconds for for her reply.

“And yet, I don’t.”

“That’s SO messed up.”

“I understand you think so, but that’s not how I feel.”

“Well, you should be appreciated. You’re high-quality.” He almost said, “merchandise” and caught himself in time.

“I AM appreciated. That would explain why she didn’t meet me.”

“Wait, what?!”

“She probably felt overwhelmed. If she cared less about me, she might have shown up.”

He stared at her, aghast. “You actually think she likes you, still?”

The blonde smiled and nodded, calmly.

He laughed derisively. “Oh, you are so delusional. She’s probably laughing her ass off and telling all her friends about how stupid you must have looked, sitting there at your little table in a romantic café, a rose on the table in front of you, waiting. all night.”

She smiled, amused at how vastly different their mental paradigms were.

Joe looked at her again, quizzically. Something about her demeanor had bothered him, and he finally realized what it was. “Nothing I’m saying is making any difference, is it?”

Until then, the blonde had just glanced at him. This time, she looked him in the eye, smiled at him gently, and shook her head. He felt the primal, candid connection almost like a physical blow. “Wow, you have an intensity about you,” he mumbled.

He sat there for another minute. The blonde could perform some alchemy and salvage the dynamic if she wanted to, or she could let the dynamic die. She thought about it. She decided that Joe could be useful. “You feel not-so-nice right now, true?” she asked, looking him in the eye again.

He looked down and mumbled, “yeah. God, you have a direct way of looking at people. It’s kinda disturbing.”

“You making no difference in how I feel or think, that’s kinda invalidating to you, isn’t it?”

Joe looked at her, re-engaging. “Yes it is,” he replied with emphasis.

“Can you see the point I’m trying to make?”

He shook his head in reply, curious

She explained how he’d heaped insults onto the other girl, sympathized with the blonde, told the blonde how she should feel, and generally rushed ahead, all on his own premises, without checking in to see if their premises and values were in synch, or even remotely similar. Indeed, they weren’t. By the standards of the blonde, the other girl cared about the blonde very much. She was known to sometimes be overwhelmed, and the anticipation of meeting the blonde had probably overwhelmed her, and this showed that she cared a lot, not that she didn’t care. Her behavior could not be faulted, the blonde explained, to a perplexed-looking Joe.

* * *

Lying in her bed, the brunette had guessed a quite-accurate rendition of this same conversation, in essence. Somehow, deep down, she suspected that the blonde knew her so well that she understood how the brunette was feeling.

The brunette’s hand moved toward her phone. She wanted to simply contact the blonde and go meet her as if nothing bad had happened. It would be so clean and benevolent. They’d meet and then hug for a long time. The brunette would apologize for not showing up at the airport, and the blonde would assure her that no apology was needed and she’d guessed the brunette had simply been utterly overwhelmed. She imagined the conversation.

“That’s no excuse,” the brunette would have replied.

“Could you have called me on a phone whose battery had a meltdown?” the blonde would perhaps have asked, and after the brunette had said “no” then the blonde would have explained that the brunette going into emotional overload was like her phone battery going into meltdown, and that willpower couldn’t be expected to overpower such extreme problems, short-term. She’d have explained that she took the brunette’s absence as a symbol of how much she cared, and that no excuse was needed.

That’s exactly the sort of thing the blonde would say, the brunette mused, smiling. She realized how their standards were so opposite to that of typical people that it was almost as if they were alien beings. That’s certainly how the brunette had felt, for much of her life.

With the blonde in her life, feeling like an alien being was no longer a source of loneliness. Oddly, it had become a source of pride – that she and the blonde had a subculture all their own, in which they understood each other in ways that typical people could not.

She lay in bed, thinking how special their dynamic was. Then, she contrasted that with how everyone she knew would evaluate things. Gradually, her buoyant mood ebbed again. She felt caught in the web of evaluating herself and her actions by typical standards. By those standards, she should feel guilty about how she’d behaved.

She was tempted to use the approach the blonde had taught her, and to say “I feel so guilty’ and to work through it, but she stopped herself consciously. She deserved to be punished, she felt. Some girls cut themselves, some abused their bodies in various ways … the brunette’s way was to feel guilt. That was her punishment, and she had always felt a peculiar comfort in its pain, the comfort of justice, of familiarity. Fragments of thoughts flew through her consciousness, like shards of glass, and no less painful … un-integrated insults such as she’d heard ever since she was a teenager. She didn’t belong, she was naive, she was a social misfit, she was weird, she was awkward … she hated herself, by those standards.

She heard the calm voice of the blonde gently saying, “but those standards are mistaken … by objective standards, you’re wonderful and you always have been. Typical people are a misfit relative to you, not the other way around.”

The brunette envisioned a scene that dramatized the conflict. She imagined herself standing on a steep slope, barely able to maintain her footing. Less than a yard above her, the blonde was standing on a sunlit ledge, her hair faintly stirring in the breeze. She looked calm and confident, and was holding out her hand, encouragingly, to help the brunette prevent sliding down that slope into an abyss. The brunette needed only to hold out her own arm and she’d be able to reach the blonde, and then she’d get pulled up to safety and security, to acceptance, and to a happiness that would sometimes be calm and sometimes overwhelmingly joyous.

In her fantasy, she turned and looked down, into the abyss. Far below she could see teeming masses of people, living in the near-darkness, hunched and unhappy. She looked up at the blonde again. The contrast was so stark. Where did she belong?

She imagined her eyes locking onto those of the blonde as she kept her arms by her sides. “I’m not coming up to you. I don’t deserve to be happy,” she told the blonde, in her fantasy. “By typical standards, indeed you don’t.” replied the blonde, “but let’s reject those standards.” The brunette felt the conflict boil inside her. “I can’t. Those standards rule the world. These people rule the world. They run the companies. They run the government. They make the decisions. We have to fit in,” she called up to the blonde.

“We can interact with them without granting them a moral high ground that they don’t deserve. We deserve it, you and I, and the few like us. Come to me. You deserve to be happy.”

“Not by their standards. They are too powerful, too many. I can’t resist them. They have always ruled things and I’ve always tried to fit in. I know of no other way.”

“I do, and I’m teaching you that other way,” the blonde replied, calmly, still holding out her hand. Her smooth skin gleamed in the sun. The brunette looked up at her powerful legs, at her muscular torso, her toned arms, her strong facial features. She had never felt so emotionally close to the blonde as at that moment.

“No,” she replied, and closed her eyes, and intentionally fell backward into the abyss, tumbling down the slope, and landing at the bottom, hurt but alive. The teeming masses were glad to see her, and they carried her away. She felt their dirty hands on her bruised skin. “This is where I belong,” she thought. “I don’t deserve better.” Even so, a nagging sense of doubt, deep down, told her that she did. She had a sense of dread that she was betraying justice instead of serving it. But by then, it didn’t matter. It was too late anyway. She’d made her decision, and she would stay with these people, and live by their rules.

She was able to look up at the blonde one more time before she vanished from her line of sight. She’d expected the blonde to look exasperated or to look away in frustration. Instead she found the blonde looking down at her, with understanding and compassion. She writhed in the hands of those carrying her along. With all her might, she called up to the blonde: “No! Go away! It’s over! I’m giving up!” She could tell that the blonde had heard her. The blonde’s expression softened more yet, and as she looked at the brunette, she calmly shook her head in disagreement.

The fantasy ended. It had been the strangest thing; part-dream and part-fantasy. part-conscious and part-subconscious.

* * *

Her intense thinking had exhausted her. She knew she needed to go to the bathroom and that she was thirsty. She thought that she should probably also be hungry but somehow she wasn’t.

She lay back and felt the familiar bitter loneliness again, and a peculiar satisfaction. She valued justice and if she deserved punishment, here she was being punished by the only person who, ultimately, could punish her: she, herself.

By the standards of the world around her, she didn’t deserve happiness, and those standards are what mattered. She couldn’t build an entire life out of sharing freakish values with one other girl, who was just as crazy as she was. She had responsibilities. She couldn’t check out of polite society and just go be happy.

She mulled on those thoughts, over and over. They drained her energy and enthusiasm, until, mentally exhausted, she fell asleep again, and slept for seven more hours.