Dances With Poodles
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2004 by hammingbyrd7

Sex Story: Chapter 1 - An erotic story of trust and friendship in the coming of age of a philosopher

Caution: This Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Teenagers   Consensual   Lesbian   Science Fiction   Group Sex   First   Anal Sex   Petting   Bestiality   Lactation   Pregnancy  

"Are you sure you girls are going to be all right? Your dad and I never left you alone for a whole week before..."

Jill and her twin sister Jamie looked up at their mom. They both knew that the worried look of their mom wasn't serious, that their parents were already packed, and would be heading to the airport in less than an hour. "Relax, mom, we'll be fine," said Jamie. "All seven of us are legal adults now, high school graduates, and we're all heading off to college on our own in a few months anyway. We'll be responsible, and we've promised not to let anyone else in the house while you're gone, not even our boyfriends, and we won't touch the liquor. You have our word on all of this."

"I know I do, dear ones, and I know how firmly you stand by what you promise. Well, we'll call often, and be sure to ask the neighbors for help if you have a problem you can't handle."

"You bet," said Jill. "But relax, mom. Remember, we have Frodo for protection!" (This was a family joke, Frodo was a three-year old, 70 lb brown standard poodle who welcomed everyone who walked in through the front door, and seemed quite hopeless as a watchdog). "Seriously, though, think of all the parents of the other kids. None of them is worrying about this at all."

"You're probably right, my astute one."

It was a fine summer morning in late June, just past graduation, and Jill and Jamie were thrilled to be spending the upcoming week camping out in their own home with five other members of their high school soccer team. The upcoming summer would be a bittersweet time for the young women, for they had forged strong bonds of friendship over many years, and they would soon be going their separate ways as they moved out into their adult lives. Jill, Jamie, Amy, Emily, and Katie had known each other since preschool, and they were inseparable. In their early childhood around the neighborhood, they became known as "the golden nickel", because they all had blond hair and almost always played as a group. In fifth grade, Sarah moved into the school district, a girl with dark brown hair, but otherwise so compatible in kindness and humor that she was quickly absorbed into the group, officially becoming the sixth member of the golden nickel in spite of her hair. It was much later, at the start of their sophomore year in high school, when the girls first met Laura.

Laura was a girl of Polish descent who grew up Bosnia and became a war orphan during the ethnic cleansing campaigns. She came to live with her grandmother's sister in the U.S., a distant relative she did not know, on a late August day when she was 15 years old. A description of her formal schooling, or lack of formal schooling to be more precise, made the school placement team first consider starting her as a freshman, rather than a sophomore, especially since she arrived speaking only broken English. But her great aunt insisted the girl seemed super bright, and they started her as a sophomore for a trial period.

Within a month, the placement team members were talking about their original concerns with wry amusement. Laura went from broken English to fluent English in less than three weeks. Her depth of understanding in mathematics and the physical sciences was so far above high school level that at first the science teachers kept spending their time trying to develop a program that would challenge her. They finally realized she was a true math and physics genius, with abilities far beyond those of her teachers. They talked with her great Aunt (whom Laura just called Aunt Irene), if Laura should move off to college early, but Irene thought the high school and the friends Laura was making were part of a needed healing from the war trauma. So during Laura's first sophomore semester, the school created special classes called "Advisory Math" and "Advisory Physics" for her, after-school sessions where Laura would describe her study efforts, and the teachers would try to suggest directions she might consider exploring. Her math studies were everywhere, her physics focused on getting to the cutting edge of quantum understanding.

On her other subjects, Laura joined the regular classes, and enjoyed moving at the high school pace though English studies, social sciences, and various electives. She also had a very athletic build, and joined the soccer team within a week of starting school. It was on the playing field where she first met the golden nickel.

The parents of the golden nickel wondered how Laura would be accepted by the group. Her endurance, power, and especially her ball handling skill on the field were of a caliber above high-school level, and the parents wondered if their girls would feel outclassed and resentful. In many ways, Laura's personality also was quite different. The members of the golden nickel had grown up nurtured and well loved, and their desires tended toward fun and adventure and enjoying life, and they were a little casual about rules and keeping promises. Laura was driven by her values and by a great passion to understand the physical world around her. She was intensely honest, incredibly focused on fulfilling any promise she made. Her personal motto in life was "carpe diem", seize the day. How would such different perspectives blend?

The blending turned out superb. For all their differences, the girls shared a base metal of kind hearts and a love of life, and the blending of Laura with the golden nickel produced an alloy superior to anything that had existed before. The rest of the team picked up much of Laura's standards for moral character, and ability to focus on goals. Laura learned to laugh again, and this time with an American sense of humor. The time she spent in movies and malls and on the soccer field with her close friends helped heal her from her ordeal in Bosnia. By Christmas of her sophomore year, she was already the seventh and final official member of the golden nickel.

The high school years rolled by, and graduation was only a month away. Jill and her boyfriend Steve were alone, sitting together talking in Steve's house on a quiet Saturday afternoon in May. Steve's parents were very rich, and off on one of their many vacations. Jill and Steve were very committed to each other, and had together picked Carnegie Mellon as a university that would support both their career choices, Jill in physics and Steve in drama. Jill was talking to Steve about Laura, and how she felt that Laura's reputation as the class genius might have prevented her from ever having a meaningful dating relationship. Jill was stunned when Steve quietly told her that he and Laura once had a date together.

"What!? You and Laura, when?" asked Jill.

"A year ago last May, just a few days before you and I started going together."

"Just last spring!? Was it fun for her?"

"No, not really," Steve said quietly, struggling to find the words to describe what he meant.

"NO? Were you intimidated by her mind, or wasn't she cute enough for you?" Jill suddenly froze and thought to herself, "Jill, what the hell are you doing? This is no way to talk to Steve."

Jill tried to sort out her rush of conflicting emotion. Steve, on the other hand, loved Jill dearly, took no notice of her sharp language, and just tried to give Jill straight answers to her questions. "Oh, Laura certainly is cute enough. Take your classic 5'6" perfect female form, stretch out the waist 4 inches until she's 5'10", add an extra layer of athletic muscle over everything, and you've got Laura. Her warm smile, and the way her smile lights up her eyes gives her a beautiful face. Oh, and those taut, upturned breasts... hey, stop that, pumpkin! It was you who asked the question. And I never petted them, or even saw them. Really. She always wears such pretty dresses; a guy can't but help notice her front... She wears absolutely no makeup or jewelry though. That does take a little getting used to."

"You never told me," Jill said softly.

"I should have told you sooner than this," Steve agreed. "Her intellect is awesome; I think I was a little put off by it at the time. I remember when Laura took Mrs. Li's Intro to the Chinese Language class as an elective her junior year here. Laura was speaking Chinese fluently before the end of the semester. After that, Mrs. Li just started handing her the Chinese poetry that Laura now loves so much... I think I first remember seeing Laura in the middle of our sophomore year. She was having a very animated discussion with Mr. Gnepp, the math teacher who was running her "Advisory Math" class that term. He had given her a book on optimization techniques he thought she would find interesting. She was back in the next day, claiming the book was making a big error in Chapter 2. Not a typo, an error in thought."

"This problem is much better approached with calculus of variations," Laura was saying. "Just set up the function's equivalent of a brachistochrone properly, and you'll see the book's error instantly!"

"Mr. Gnepp was having a hard time following her", Steve continued. "I heard they fixed the error in the next edition, gave Laura a nice citation in it too. Pumpkin, what's a brachistochrone?"

"No idea, of course. You think we've covered stuff like that, even in my honors math class? Stop teasing me, you fiend."

"We met by chance at the end of school, on a very hot day at the end of last May. Laura was bubbling over with excitement; she had just learned her first paper for Physical Review Letters had been accepted. She handed me a copy. The title was "The Reality Creation Process, New Mathematical Constructs for a Self-Organizing, Incomputable Interface Layer between an Undetermined, Entangled Quantum State and an Immutable Past." She was so excited. She started telling me the paper was the first part of something monumental..."

"It's just the beginning, Steve, but I'm on my way!" said Laura. "Read the books of Roger Penrose, he's written some good pioneering work on this. I only have the dimmest of views how this will evolve. It'll probably take me years just to build the mathematical tools I'll need to approach the physics. It will take several more years of theoretical work to lay down the physical principles. But then, experimental physics in the science of consciousness! True exploration, honoring the great scientific culture of test and learn. What is the physical basis for free will to exist? I think I can discover it. It will be my life's work, my life's great thank-you present to God..."

Jill was surprised to notice that Steve was starting to struggle as he continued to tell his story. "... Laura's Aunt Irene was spending an overnight at Angel Memorial with some medical issue. Laura was heading to the bus stop right after school when I met her. You know how bad the connections are from there to the hospital. I offered her a ride in my car, and to bring her back later to her apartment... She was very grateful... We got back to her apartment about 7 pm, so late Laura offered to cook me some dinner... She's a great cook, by the way... Her apartment seemed so small; Laura and her Aunt are really squeezed for space... And such worn-out furniture, very clean though... After dinner, we started talking. Laura was very pretty, walking around in her bare feet and with her hair unbound, wearing a thin cotton bright blue dress... I... , I started lusting after her body..."

"You what?!" whispered Jill.

"I know, Jill, I know. I'm so ashamed now of the way I acted. I was an absolute jerk. I kept pawing at her body and trying to undress her. Worse than a jerk, brutish, way below even my usual standards of bad conduct back then. I... , I came very close to force mounting her. Any other girl I know would have been crying rape and calling 911. I was that bad."

"Laura was firm but gentle with me. She kept saying, "Steve, we can't be this intimate. We don't know each other. You don't know me; you don't know who I am. You don't know what I am. Steve, we can't be this intimate." "

"Finally I semi-yelled at her, "Well, just who are you, anyway?" Laura paused, and then started telling me about her life in Bosnia..."

Jill could not believe what Steve was telling her, that he could have acted the way he described. She decided to pass it by for the moment and move on to her second astonishment. "Laura told you something about her life in Bosnia?" Jill whispered. "She's never even told anyone in the golden nickel about that, except in the most general terms. We all respect her right to privacy, of course..."

"Laura told me everything about her life in Bosnia. At the end, I promised not to tell anyone else... But I think I can tell you," said Steve, with a dawn of comprehension in his eyes.

"No, Steve. I'm dying to know, but don't break your promise."

"No, that's not what I mean. A few weeks ago, Laura came up to me between classes and said, "Steve, I think you and Jill are so close now that I consider you two as having begun your marriage dance. Between such dancers, there should be no secrets." I didn't understand exactly what she meant then, but I've just realized she was giving me permission to tell you about her. Tell no one else, though, not even Jamie. I think Laura wants this to be sealed inside what she calls our marriage dance..."

"Laura was born in Bosnia to a pair of poor farmers who loved her dearly. She lived close to a village of great ethnic diversity, and even as a young 2-year old she was amazing her neighbors with her language ability. All she seemed to need was to listen to people talk for a few hours in their native language, and then she would begin to chat back and imitate it. Making lots of errors, of course, but rarely the same mistake twice if you took the time to correct her. By the time she was eight, she was fluent in a whole basketful of the languages of Eastern Europe: Bosnian, Croatian, Hungarian, Romanian, Polish, Russian, Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Greek, and Albanian. She also had some limited abilities in Western European languages. It was her pride to make much needed money for her parents as an interpreter between neighbors as needed, and she was well loved and accepted by her community, as was her twin brother Edward, who was often by her side."

"Laura had a twin brother?" asked Jill, and she felt a deep cold shudder rock her body to the bone. Jill loved her twin sister Jamie so dearly that her loss would be unbearable, and Jill began to dread how this story would unfold.

"Edward was Laura's closest friend and great pride. He was like a deer, super graceful, kind and very protective of Laura. Laura said he was a phenomenal soccer player, able to make turns in direction so quickly, it seemed impossible. Laura spent many, many hours of her childhood playing one-on-one soccer with him. She spent much time practicing ball control, not to beat him, but to try to be a worthy opponent for him. Formal schooling was easy for Laura, but no one was pushing her very hard to study, and she spent her time playing with Edward, loving and caring for her two younger sisters Katja and Natalie, and chatting with the neighbors with all their interesting languages."

"Almost all her memory of the first ten years of her life is of loving times. But the clouds of war were gathering. People began to move out, the society began to polarize, all the love and acceptance and the different languages began to disappear. Then the war started. Laura called it a multi-year meat-grinder of insane hatred and stupid nationalism. Formal schooling disappeared for Laura. Across the last part of her childhood, from 10 years to 15 years of age, Laura and her younger sisters spent most of their time with a close friend of their family, a retired university physics professor. He was no blood relation, but Laura and her sisters loved him dearly, and they all called him grandfather. He lived in the nearby village, and Laura's parents thought it was safer for the girls there, rather than on the more exposed farm."

"Grandfather spent much time being Laura's private tutor. He was amazed and delighted in how fast Laura could pick up math and physics concepts when he challenged her to do so, and he soon realized she had the ability to start reading college level textbooks on her own. Grandfather turned Laura loose upon his own library, filled with the textbooks from his teaching career. Laura spent a great part of her last five years in Bosnia in that library, lost in the beauty of the math and physics, trying to ignore the war that was just outside her window."

"But the war did not ignore her. In the early spring, just a few days before Laura and Edward would have had their fifteenth birthdays; there was a raid on her family's farm by ethnic cleansers. Laura's mother was raped and killed outright, and her father and brother just disappeared. Usually in cases like this, the people just disappear forever, but in this case, the cleansers were very sloppy in hiding their disposal site, and Laura was able to help identify the bodies of both her brother and father within a week of the raid. Life all around Laura and her sisters was filled with fear, with her younger sisters Katja, now age 9, and Natalie age 7 trying to act braver than they felt."

"About two months after they lost their parents and elder brother, Katja and Natalie were out playing near the edge of the village when a sniper shot Natalie. It was a single shot, with no one else around except Katja. 7-year old Natalie had been intentionally targeted. The bullet caught her just below her stomach, traveled down and shattered the base of her spine before punching out a large mushrooming exit wound in the small of her back. Natalie fell down in shock and pain, bewildered that she couldn't move her legs. Her sister Katja, in her grief for her sister, ignored the mortal danger of the situation, and rushed to help her. She was holding her crying sister Natalie in her arms and calling for help when a second shot from the sniper hit Katja directly in her throat, killing her almost instantly. Natalie continued to cry, being held in the arms of her dead sister. No one else dared approach the site. Natalie kept crying until she bled to death."

"About a month after the loss of the two girls, the entire village came under a murderous attack by a large paramilitary force. It was in the dead of night, after 2 AM, and the sounds of screaming and shooting were all around and extremely close to the house where Laura and her grandfather lived. Escape seemed hopeless, but the grandfather realized that Laura was about to be raped and slaughtered, and he was determined to give her as much of a chance as possible to get away, no matter what the cost. He pressed a book into Laura's hands, and told her to wait by the back door to the garden, and to try to slip away when the chance seemed best. Grandfather then walked brazenly out the front door and began to loudly curse the paramilitary ethnic cleansers, coming up with such novel, rapid-fire strings of insults that the diversion worked. Insane stuff, almost funny, if the situation weren't so deadly. Like the attackers were unworthy to lick the rear ends of the slugs grandfather found in his basement, although he was sure that's just what they spent all their time doing anyway."

"The attackers gathered around this crazy old man to laugh at him, opening a small window in time for Laura to slip though the garden and into the night. Her heart ached with love for her grandfather. Unlike the paramilitary, Laura knew that a grim river of steel courage was flowing just below the surface of the insane insults. Her mind grieved that she would never get the chance to express her gratitude to her grandfather for the sacrifice he was making. Her face broke into a deep grimace when she heard the shots that killed him, but she did not cry out. Absolute silence was needed to escape the kill net that had been established."

"After that night, Laura was on her own. She spent her time foraging for food at night, and hiding out in the woods and abandoned, burned-out buildings during the day, all the time playing a deadly game of hide-and-seek with roving paramilitary rape gangs. She would sometimes sit and stare at the book her grandfather had given her. It was one of her favorites from the library, a Russian textbook by Butkov with the title of "Mathematical Physics." But she found she couldn't read it, she just stared at the book, unopened."

"Her grandfather tried to give her something to cling to, something he knew she thought beautiful. But it wasn't enough, Jill, not nearly enough. The beauty of mathematics alone can't be a shield against that kind of horror. Everyone that she had loved had been taken from her. Laura told me they have a saying in Bosnia, 'War's an evil bird, feeding on the dreams of the children.' When Laura was on the run, she began to have nightmares about that bird, fearing it was chasing her, stalking her, determined to eat all her dreams. The nightmares were a horror to her, becoming worse and worse each night through the weeks on the run, until one night, in a nightmare that Laura was deathly afraid would be the last dream she would ever have, the war bird finally caught up with her..."

Laura's dream...

"When I entered the dream I was walking in a forest, Steve, along the banks of a swift, blue river. I was naked but totally unashamed. I was walking on soft, wet grass; cool beneath my feet, much nicer than the bullet-ridden bodies I had to walk across in my other dreams. I tasted the water of the river and it was delicious, clear and pure, much different than the bloodied water I was forced to drink in the other dreams. Strange, I thought, that the war bird would pick such a beautiful place to devour my dreams, for I could feel his presence close by, and I knew that my time of running was over."

"As I walked I came to an enormous stone bridge that crossed the river. It was massive, impossibly large, an eight-lane superhighway kind on bridge, spanning the river in the middle of the forest. And there on the other side was the evil war bird. After weeks of hearing it searching for me in the darkness of my other nightmares, I finally got to see it in the bright sunlight of the forest. It was huge, five story building huge, and jet black. It was shaped somewhat like a grotesque ostrich, with a great serpentine neck and a tiny head holding its tiny, evil brain. It had a huge, spherical belly, covered with black feathers, hugely fat and heavy from all the dreams it had eaten, and I saw in its tiny eyes its great hunger to devour mine."

"In the last instant before the war bird crossed the bridge, Steve, I realized what the bridge was really made of. They were the stones of my hate, great stones of hate mortared together with the guilt of my survival, and the frustration and the hurt of all of my losses. All of my desires to punish, to strike back, to take revenge, sitting there as great stone blocks of hate in the bridge before me, making a path for the war bird. And I felt the presence of a loving God inside of me, giving me a great power and a great choice to make. And I chose God's path, Steve. I turned a white-hot starfire God had given me onto the bridge and into my own mind, burning the bridge and burning away my ability ever to make such stone again. God's fire was within my mind, but I realized in joy it was not a malicious fire, but a refining fire. And I poured the power of that fire into the stone and into my mind. I burned the stone down to its molecules; I burned the stone molecules down to their atoms. I used the starfire to strip the electrons away from the atoms, to fission their nuclei into hydrogen."

"At the end of the dream, the bridge was gone, and I had lost my ability to hate. Even the guilt was gone; I could finally accept in peace that my grandfather gave up his life as a gift for me. The war bird was howling in frustration, for he was far too fat and heavy to fly or swim. I danced in the grass on my side of the river, naked and free. I laughed at the war bird, and mocked him! "Oh, you stupid, evil bird," I cried. "Such an easy choice to make. I've lost my ability to hate, but I've saved my ability to dream and aspire! Such an easy, obvious choice to make! You stupid bird. Oh, you stupid, stupid bird!"

Steve continued, "Laura had that dream, Jill, just before she was rescued by a patrol of U.N. troops. She got lucky in getting her status as a refugee orphan so quickly, and in finding her Aunt Irene here in the U.S... When you first met her in September three years ago on the soccer field, it was less than a month after she had defeated the war bird." Jill sat silently, tears in her eyes, overwhelmed, unable to think of a thing to say. "Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Laura is a pacifist. Heck, look what she did for Jamie last Christmas. If you're doing something outrageously evil, she might well become furious at your actions. She might use great effort to stop you from what you're doing. But she couldn't hate you, wouldn't want to hurt anything you held dear, as a means to get back at you. You could be the greatest torture in her life, and her greatest desire would be, as she puts it, to join in a dance of forgiveness and re-direction."

"I should know," Steve said quietly, "She offered just such a dance to me. After Laura finished telling me her story in her apartment that night, I started to cry. I felt so ashamed, Jill. What kind of a monster had I become? I tried to leave. I couldn't bear for Laura to look at me. But she physically stopped me from going out the door, pulled me over to the couch instead, saying that I shouldn't drive in this condition, and that she really didn't want me to leave anyway. She piled a whole bunch of cushions in her lap on the couch, and I was soon lying down on them, face up, still crying heavily. Laura was gently holding my head, and my right ear was pressing into her right breast. I couldn't believe she was trusting me enough to do this, after I had just come so close to raping her. But it didn't feel sexual at all. It felt healing. No, more than healing. Healing suggests getting back to a place you once had before an injury. Laura was helping me to become something new, something better. Laura called it re-directing."

"An honor, Steve," Laura said softly, "It's an honor for me to help you re-direct."

"We stayed like that on the couch for more than half the night. Sometimes we talked about our dreams and aspirations. Other times we were just quiet, I listening to the slow beat of Laura's strong heart in my right ear."

"I awoke the next morning on the couch to the smell of frying omelets and toasting bagels. We talked lightly about our schedules for the day, it was clear we had a promise with each other never to talk about the previous night with anyone. I drove her back to school in time for our first classes. I spent the day wondering how to thank her, wondering if I should ask her out. But that felt wrong, like a patient asking his therapist for a date. The very next day after that, I met you. I have so much to thank her for; I never would have won your heart without Laura's help. I love you, Jill. I love you as my wife to be."

"I love you too, Steve. I'm glad you've won my heart, and that I've accepted yours in return. The world isn't quite ready to accept permanent commitments from people as young as we are, but I also think of you as my husband to be. Laura's right, our marriage dance has begun."

Steve and Jill sat quietly on the couch for quite a while, gently holding each other, while Jill slowly absorbed all she had heard. "You don't know what I am. You don't know what I am.," Jill said softly.

"What?" asked Steve.

"Oh, I was just thinking about Laura's remark as she was trying to fend you off. Maybe Laura's grandfather was the first person to guess what Laura truly is."

"What do you mean?"

"Laura and Jamie, and you, of course, are my closest friends. I've been so fascinated by Laura's genius that I've read many biographies about other ones, from Archimedes to James Gleick's book "Genius" about Richard Feynman. None of them came close to achieving what Laura's achieved with so little formal education. Math and spatial relationships are considered right-brain activities. None of the great math geniuses I know of had genius language ability, a left-brain activity. Well, Carl Gauss was good, but not a genius linguist. All the great philosophers of the human condition I know of, Jesus, John Milton, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., they all seem to be left-brain geniuses, with no obvious special math abilities."

"Maybe there are three kinds of geniuses, Steve. The type-A or type-B genius is a one- in-a-million shot, and there are a few thousand of them on the planet now. Very innovative people who discover new ways to look at things, the right-brain type-A people pushing the cutting edge of knowledge, and the left-brain type-B are the people who inspire us with their keen insight into the human condition."

"And maybe, just maybe, there's a type-C genius, a one-in-a-million times a one-in-a- million shot, a one-in-a-trillion shot, a one person in a 100,000 years for the whole planet kind of genius. Someone we don't even have a word for, because we never had one before, at least not in recorded history. The type-C genius has phenomenal math ability augmented by genius language ability, has synergistic genius from both the right and left brain. This type of genius doesn't push cutting edges; the type-C genius creates knowledge light-years away from the cutting edge, and then begs the rest of the world to catch up."

"I don't understand the concept of physically destroying your brain's ability to hate, but I think that's what Laura was literally able to do, honoring, as she would probably put it, the great minds of Jesus, Gandhi, and King."

"I don't understand Laura's papers on quantum reality, but I do know the quantum science community is going absolutely nuts over them. I think Laura is developing the math and experimental physics simultaneously now. Her latest paper in Physics Today is a detailed proposal for something she calls a quantum interface resonance experiment. Laura says she can set the whole thing within a month once she starts her summer program at Cal Tech after July 4th; that the entire experiment is just two interferometers, a few beam splitters, and a modified photo-multiplier."

"Think how insanely aggressive both Cal Tech and Princeton were for Laura to join them with her National Science Foundation scholarship. Both offered to let her write her own description of what a quick doctoral program would be like, with Laura just coming out of high school. Their real passion is the get Laura engaging with their research faculty as quickly as possible. Look how eagerly they agreed to Laura's suggestion that she split her time between the two campuses. Do you realize how unprecedented that is? I think they suspect what I suspect, what Laura's grandfather suspected three years ago, that Laura is a great treasure for the entire planet."

"A treasure we almost lost," said Steve softly, still thinking of Laura's ordeal in Bosnia. "One more insane sniper targeting another innocent child, just one more snap of a twig in the deadly games of hide-and-seek with the paramilitary, and we would have lost her forever, never even realizing the greatness of our loss. How is it possible, Jill? Even with the most insane religious thoughts possible, even with the most bizarre, ethnic hatred possible, even with the most evil nationalistic pride imaginable, how could it be possible to hold an innocent 7-year-old child at play in your gun site, and then pull the trigger? I sometimes have nightmares about it."

Jill softly caressed Steve's head for a long time. His question was unanswerable. She finally said, "Steve, I want you to know my faithfulness to you is unchanged. I forgive you as Laura has forgiven you for the way you acted that night. I will never bring up the issue of that night again, unless you want me to." And then Jill smiled, and said "And you know, this finally explains my warnings from Kathy, the girl you were going out with before me."

"You know Kathy?"

"A little, she hangs out with a very different bunch of kids. We move in very different circles. But Kathy is a nice person."

"Kathy's a very nice person," Steve agreed, "much nicer than I smart enough to appreciate while we were dating. What did she say about me?"

"Not a good press at all, I'm afraid. She kept telling me that you were a taker, and would tend to whine a lot when you didn't get your way. She warned me that the more she tried to open up to intimacy in her dating relationship with you, the more controlling you became. She also said not to be lured by all your money, that you weren't the least bit generous. I kept telling her you weren't like that at all. You are kind and generous with people, playful and affectionate in your love for me, and I don't think I've ever heard you complain about anything. Her warnings and my experience with you were so completely opposite, I wondered for a long time if she were playing some sort of cruel hoax, but she seemed very sincere. She kept saying you would have needed a complete personality transplant to be behaving the way I was describing you."

"Wow. Kathy was making a very accurate observation, Jill. My character has changed a lot. Whenever I feel like whining now, I think of Katja, spending the last moments of her own life trying to comfort her dying sister in her arms, and I think, what God given right do I have to whine about anything? Maybe the only thing Kathy missed is that Laura's master surgeon knife cut deeper than just my personality. Laura, and you, Jill, helped me transplant my dreams, my aspirations. Where my dreams lead, my personality follows. I love you so much, Jill. You've become the better part of me, and the better part of what I dream to become."

"Oh, Steve, I love you dearly too. You are the light of my life, the fire of my loins! And speaking of my loins, here, let me give you your graduation present a few weeks early..."

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