A Rose for LaurelbyImaginator©
A whisper. So small and subtle, yet so very intimate. Soft lips pressed close to the ear, light puffs of air slipping through the opening with a message meant only for one. A whisper, so intimate, slipped through my window at two-thirty in the morning.
I remember my roommate Jeannine not liking my idea of leaving the windows open that night. The air conditioning had stopped working, and the landlord had said that nothing could be done till morning.
“But Elise,” she said, “what if someone tries to break in?”
“Then we’ll just have to entertain them,” I said. “And when we’re done, they can watch as we entertain each other. Won’t that be fun, Jeannine?”
“God, Elise!” said Jeannine. “Just when I have you figured out, you go and get weird on me again. First this morning, and now this.”
“Well, it must be the heat then,” I said. “Because I feel like I’m on fire. Would you like to share a glass of wine with me, Jeannine?”
I remember her grunting and stomping out of my room. I then drained a fourth glass of Chablis, slipped my shorts off and fell onto the bed. I awoke later that night covered with sweat and surrounded by darkness. Lying there, unable to reclaim sleep, I then listened to the usual sounds coming through the window, crickets chirping, cars passing, then fewer cars and more crickets. My head was swimming, so I let the chirping of the crickets fan my brain for awhile. But soon the image of thousands of pairs of legs being rubbed together was only fanning the flames of my desire. I then flung my arms over my head, trying desperately to find some breathable air. Suddenly, I noticed something lifting the curtains of the window. There was a rustling sound coming from outside. Then words were being whispered to me through the window screen. They were too subtle at first, so I slid off the bed and crept closer, listening more intently. And there they were again.
“. . . let it pour . . .”
My heart began to throb and my mouth felt dry. I found it hard to breathe, so I grabbed the keys from the dresser. The night air outside was warm, except for a light breeze. The lights of Willingsport lit the sky, clouding out most of the stars. As I unlocked the car door, I could hear the words again coming from the end of the parking lot, this time being whispered more loudly.
“. . . LET IT POUR . . .”
The streets were full of the dancing shadows of trees, and every stop sign I came to vanished before my eyes. Seven blocks later, the familiar buildings of the university campus stood like ghosts, and in the middle of a humid August night, I found myself running across the open lawn of Fellowship Square, the dew from the grass splashing my ankles and nothing but a long t-shirt and panties to protect me from the saturated air. A rumbling noise pursued from the west, and in front of me rose the dark swaying shape of the oak tree at the center of the Square. There stood the live oak offering me cool refuge under its thick canopy of dark green leaves, while every leaf tapped and brushed its neighbor, passing along the message of impending rain. But could this have been just a dream? Or could it have been the wine? And if I was neither drunk nor dreaming, then what madness had led me there? For there I stood at the edge of the oak’s shadow and heard echoed whispers urging me to throw my whole being under the long thick branches.
“. . . LET . . . IT . . . POUR!”
The words suddenly stirred images from my memory, and I saw again eyes staring deep into my own and felt once more a hand gently squeezing my shoulder, then one of my breasts. The next image was another hand slipping deep inside my pants, then soft lips being pressed wet and warm against my neck and light puffs of air filling my brain like helium. Yet these were but shadows to the things that were actually spoken on such occasions, the intimate things whispered to me during that summer of my twentieth year, words left floating in my brain and meant to lure me out of my shell. It was those things that had excited me the most. The most personal things that had ever been and the most illicit things that would ever be, if I had only allowed them to be. And such things were always slipped in at the oddest times, always with an attempt to catch me off guard, like once on a Saturday afternoon in April of my junior year at Central, as I was accompanying Jeannine to the local supermarket for some items she needed to cook supper with. I remember standing alone at the fresh vegetable case selecting some carrots and hearing two Spanish-speaking women approaching. They then stood next to me, chattering away as though I were invisible to them. Remembering my Spanish courses from the previous year, I then curiously listened in to see how much I could discern from their conversation. I distinctly remember the woman nearest me holding a large cucumber behind her back and speaking in a melodious voice to her friend, telling her that she had a juguete nuevo, a “new toy.” She then showed the cucumber to her friend who gasped at the sight of it.
“Es tan grande!” the friend said.
I was looking into the mirror at the back of the case and seeing the woman taking the friend’s dark hand and placing it around the end of the shiny green vegetable. She then spoke softly of how it would bring both of them mucho gozaremos, “much pleasure” that night. Both women then giggled, as the cucumber was being slipped into the hand basket on the friend’s arm. I was standing there motionless, watching their hands clasp each other as the women then prepared to walk away. I remember my body quivering and my breathing becoming more rapid, as the whole image the woman had just painted was spreading itself before my mind: the two of them on a bed, dark and naked against the sheets, the friend lying down, the other kneeling between her legs, the ends of the long shiny cucumber slipping and disappearing inside of each. I then found myself blinking my eyes and trying to shake the image from my mind, then taking a deep breath to calm the quivering and regain my composure. I remember a warm hand suddenly being laid on my shoulder, while another was gently prying my fingers from around a thick carrot in the case. There was a woman’s floral scent enveloping me, and light puffs of air entering my ear, as this stranger holding me close from behind then shared one of her most intimate experiences with me.
With whispered words she spoke, “once, while on tour in the South Pacific, I let two Filipino women rub palm oil all over my body. Then they leaned me against a tall palmetto and showed me the pleasures of island love.”
Her other hand then glided across my back and gently held my shoulder. I remember seeing her select two cucumbers from the case, examine them closely, then drop the larger of the two into the plastic bag in my hand. She then smiled at me and winked, before turning and slowly walking away. I remember following with my eyes the slender form of her body, fitted so nicely into a sleeveless pantsuit draped with a sheer green poncho that shimmered and fluttered with her movements. I was watching the woman as she then disappeared around a corner at the far end of the aisle, while wondering how she could have known what I had been thinking. It was then that I noticed the plastic bag no longer in my hand but lying on the floor. I was scooping up its spilt contents, as Jeannine was approaching with the shopping cart.
With a sigh she said, “Oh, well! I was going to have to wash them off anyway. Just drop them in the basket. And what’s with the cucumber?”
“Jeannine,” I said, “did you know they have palm trees in the Philippines?”
“Of course, silly,” she said, “everybody knows that.”
“I didn’t,” I said.
That had been my first personal encounter with the beautiful and talented Dr. Laurel Grey. She was a gifted concert pianist who joined the faculty of the Brown School of Music during my freshman year. Many wanted to study with her, including myself. But her roster of students quickly filled up, and I remained stuck for two long years with the aging Mrs. Faust, senior piano faculty member and a woman of staunch Puritan values. Mrs. Faust did not like Laurel and took every opportunity to make her views known to me. Laurel was in her mid 30’s and highly accomplished, but her youth and success was not all that earned her the hatred of the finicky Mrs. Faust.
For you see, there was nothing formal or condescending about Laurel Grey. She was as casual and unpredictable as a summer storm, yet just as inevitable. Her eyes were gray, like her name, and her short blond hair, windswept and falling just to her shoulders, lacked only some autumn leaves stuck within it. Irreverent best described the way she dressed, going from what looked like a school girl’s uniform with white tennis shoes, dark fish-net hose and a daringly short skirt to black leather boots, tight studded jeans, a black tank top and deep purple lipstick and eye shadow.
One day in the middle of May, while I was dutifully practicing my scales for the nodding Mrs. Faust, the door to her studio suddenly opened. And there was Laurel, wearing a dark green pin-striped vest and matching slacks with a white blouse and a red tie loosened at the collar. Her lips were ruby red, and the top two buttons of her blouse were undone, revealing a beautiful pearl necklace underneath. It was the most seductive outfit I had seen her wear yet.
“Dr. Grey,” said Mrs. Faust, “it is customary to knock before entering another faculty member’s studio.”
“It is?” asked Laurel. “Well, customs do come and go, don’t they? Just like the leaves on the trees? By the way, here are those student evaluations you requested.”
Her voice was like velvet, and the whole time Laurel was there her attention seemed focused more on this shy and uninteresting girl sitting at the piano than on the prim and properly attired Mrs. Faust.
“Thank you,” said Mrs. Faust, “but I would have preferred that you had brought these to me at another time. As you can see, I have a student.”
“Oh, I’m sure Elise won’t mind,” said Laurel. “After all, she’s so much further along than the other students. It wouldn’t surprise me if we should soon see her true talent emerge, as she begins to blossom on her own.”
“Elise is my student, Dr. Grey,” said Mrs. Faust. “I will monitor her progress and determine when she is ready to advance. Some of us did not have gifts handed to us at birth.”
“But who said Elise’s real life had already begun?” asked Laurel. “Her musical talent, among other things, is still in embryo and will soon burst forth of its own. Of this I am sure.”
As she turned to go, Laurel beamed a warm and vibrant smile my way then winked her eye. I felt as though I was being summoned to follow her.
“Oh, the nerve!” exclaimed the perturbed Mrs. Faust. “She must think she owns the world, and all because she played a Beethoven concerto with the New York Philharmonic before she was 18. You will do well, Elise, not to take after her example.”
Despite Mrs. Faust’s assessment of her, I immediately developed a fondness and admiration for Laurel. For she could see even then that I was not just this shy and quiet girl with long brown hair and glasses who everyone thought spent all of her free time either in the library or practicing piano; nor did she think that I was just this silly girl everyone laughed at because she occasionally dropped or tripped over things. Somehow Laurel understood the real me, even if I myself did not. And her presence, whether up on stage or simply walking by in the hallway, seemed always to awaken in me something I had never quite come to terms with, a longing, a feeling, vague yet ever present. And the words she would slip into my ear that summer would become like pieces of bread scattered and left floating on the surface of a dark pond, set there to lure something deep within me to the surface.
It was early June, when the indomitable Mrs. Faust was finally persuaded to retire. An opening occurred in Laurel’s studio, and I was immediately placed there at her request. And even though the semester was ended, a lesson was scheduled for me, and it was during that lesson that I remember her commenting on the oak in the Square. But not before she kissed me. I mean, really kissed me. When I entered her studio that morning, she smiled warmly, hugged me close, then kissed me right on the lips. It lasted just a second, maybe two. If it had lasted an hour, I could not tell. It was such an affectionate kiss, and I was so stunned by it that I let one, then two books slip from my arms.
Laurel glided back to where she had been standing next to the window. The long silk blouse she had on, un-tucked and with its sleeves rolled up, swished and shimmered with the warm breeze from under the raised sash. Most of the oldest buildings of the university faced Fellowship Square, so the oak was quite visible from the window of Laurel’s studio.
“Have you noticed the magnificent oak in the Square today?” she asked. “How inviting its dark shade is?”
She continued to stare out the window, as I was gathering up my books from the floor and setting everything on the edge of the piano. I watched her standing there in the golden light of late morning. It was the first time I had ever gotten a good look at her, and I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. It was also the first time I had been in her studio, and its furnishings were quite exquisite. Of course, like most of them it was small with beige plaster walls and the obligatory baby grand and ceiling fan. But whereas most instructors had a desk piled with papers, Laurel’s was chuffed into a corner and draped with an oriental-style table cloth. What looked like a Japanese tea set was displayed on top and on the wall behind hung a samurai sword beneath a photograph of a naval aircraft carrier with smoke billowing from its deck. I was later to learn that the decanter on the desk actually contained sake. The piano was rolled onto a Persian rug and in its curve stood a 3-foot tall replica of the Venus de Milo with Mardi Gras beads around its neck. A couple of plants were set here and there. Photographs lined the wall behind the piano, mostly of Laurel with other people, while other framed pictures and honors sat in a box on the floor. A large print of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” hung on the opposite wall, and under the print sat a wicker settee with red cushions. Finally, in the far corner stood a large steamer trunk open and containing stacks of old piano scores, a treasure chest to my mind’s eye. After taking in the room and seeing that Laurel was still occupied with the view from the window, I decided to sit at the piano and demonstrate for her what I had learned thus far.
“I thought I’d start with a Chopin piece I’ve been practicing,” I said, “if that’s alright with you.”
Laurel said nothing. So I sat at the piano and quickly fumbled with the pages on the stand. As I played, my fingers continually stumbled over notes that I thought had been mastered. My hands seemed unwilling to cooperate with my brain, causing me to constantly start whole phrases over again. After finally reaching the end of the piece, I let my shoulders droop in defeat. I wanted to crawl into the piano and close the lid, hiding myself from what was sure to be stark criticism from Laurel. I slowly turned to see what expression would be on her face this time. She was still staring out the window, lost in whatever it was that had captured her gaze. She seemed to have not even heard my playing.
“Dr. Grey?” I said.
“Elise,” said Laurel without turning from the window, “do you always try to do what is expected of you?”
“I always try to do my best,” I said, fighting back a tear. “I try to do what is required of me, what all my teachers tell me to do. If I’ve failed you, then please don’t be mad at me.” I turned toward the piano, trying to hide my shame from her. My head drooped, and tears filled my eyes. I lightly stroked the keyboard, thinking of how much I loved playing it. I was ready to run from the room, and then, I felt Laurel seating herself beside me and placing her arm around my shoulder. She lifted my chin and brushed the hair and the tears from my face.
“My dear Elise,” she said. “You haven’t failed me. After all, it’s only your first lesson with me, and being a little anxious is understandable.”
“But I know I could have done better,” I said. “It’s just that I sometimes stumble a lot and can’t help it.”
“Always remember, Elise,” she said, “when you stumble, whether physically, mentally or emotionally, it is only because you have made yourself a prisoner to the wishes of others, or to your own desires. You must never give them what they want, Elise, but only what they deserve.”
Laurel continued to caress my cheek. She seemed to be looking deep into my eyes, and I felt the tip of her thumb lightly brushing my lower lip. I believed that she was about to kiss me again, and I could feel my heart throbbing in my chest. Then she looked from side to side, and smiled a most mischievous smile.
“Do you know what I want to do right now?” she asked. “What I really want to do? More than anything?”
She carefully drew back the hair from my neck and brought her lips close to my ear. I could feel once more the warmth of her breath against my cheek and her luscious scent enveloping me, causing my heart to increase its throbbing.
“I want to run to the oak,” she whispered, “embrace it, kiss it, press its leaves against my bare breasts. I want to lie within the cradle of its roots and fall asleep to the swaying of its branches.”
Laurel pulled away and looked again into my wide-open eyes. No one had ever shared such intimate thoughts with me before. The prudish Mrs. Faust certainly would never have said such a thing, nor would she even have heard of it. It was exhilarating, yet frightening at the same time.
“And you, Elise Richardson,” she said, “what do you want to do? Stay here and try to decipher the scribblings of a lonely man who’s been dead for over a hundred years, or come with me and lie naked in the shadow of the oak?”
I was stunned by what I was hearing, and yet for a few seconds I actually found myself wanting to let Laurel chase me naked across Fellowship Square in front of everyone. It was the strangest, the most wicked desire I had ever felt. But the candle that had been lit within my mind could not hold its flame for long, partly from a lack of nerve and partly from a deathly fear of being once more made to look like a fool. Having entrusted my heart to someone before and seen it carelessly handled like a toy, I blinked and averted my eyes from Laurel’s gaze. She then softened her smile as if she understood.
“But we must not give in to our desires just yet,” she said, then set a pair of reading glasses on the tip of her nose. “Nor will we do what is expected of us, either. We’ll give ourselves instead a much deserved lesson in passion from the pen of Mr. Chopin.”
The Prelude was a short piece, little more than a minute long, but that day Laurel helped turn it into the most sensual experience of deep passion. While her right hand waved gracefully in tempo with the meter, her left hand squeezed then slowly relaxed its hold on my arm. My fingers walked the keys more smoothly this time, breathing in the notes of the melody deeply, but always remaining under the control of Laurel’s hand squeezing and telling them to hold each breath just a little longer. I could feel my heart throbbing in sync with the pulsating accompaniment, and as another sequence of phrases began, Laurel’s squeezing hand would lay on top of my shoulder with its fingers massaging the muscle, pressing it then relaxing, pressing, relaxing.
While a fragment of the melody was being strummed, her fingers would walk up and down my neck as if stroking the strings of a harp. A warm and invigorating sensation coursed through my body and energized my hands so that they seemed to glide effortlessly over the keys. The second theme repeatedly rolled under my fingers, and Laurel swayed my body in rhythm with hers, immersing me in the throes of her passion until we sank quietly together into the deepest note. With the final return of the main melody, the Prelude took its last breath, and Laurel’s waving hand floated gently like a falling leaf and landed over my heart. She pulled me closer to her and pressed her lips firmly against my cheek, then lightly against my ear.