The hours passed slowly as I lay awake, watching the shadows of the trees on the wall opposite my window as they swayed back and forth with the fleeting seconds. Sleep eluded me in those days. For weeks I had been overwhelmed with the feeling that I was being followed home from the market, from class, from the river. Wherever I went the piercing invisible eyes had not lost me, no matter how fast I ran or how stealthily I hid. I would have been foolish to think that my bedroom was an exception.

The steady snoring of my father from the room under mine provided some comfort. After all, he had promised me since early childhood that he would give his very life to protect me, and I never doubted Father.

My eyes closed at nearly two o'clock in the morning and dreams began to flow into my unconsciousness when the distinct click of metal against wood stirred me. I pulled the thin summer sheet over my nose and stared at the window. The trees seemed to laugh at me as they danced back and forth. I was being silly. I closed my eyes, and this time became lost in blissful slumber.

I have no idea how long I was asleep, but when I awoke the sun still had not dawned. I am not even entirely sure why I woke up, but as my eyes opened another face came into focus, only inches away from mine. I squinted, believing myself to be in a continued dream, and noticed that I was not seeing an entire face, but eyes alone. The skin around these eyes had been painted to be as black as the garment that covered the face. Exhausted, I laughed to myself and attempted to change dreams, resting my head against the pillow once more.

I was brought sharply into harsh reality by the violent shaking of my shoulders. I wanted to say "stop," to go back to sleep and enjoy the brief moment of rest, but I came to the realization that a gloved hand had been placed over my mouth. I blinked into full consciousness, and as I did I understood the full gravity of the situation. My protective sheet had been cast to the foot of my bed, leaving nothing between myself and the masculine presence that dominated me. The cloth of tabi boots wedged painfully at my thighs as the man wrapped his legs tightly about my waist. One hand held my chest to the bed as the other continued to cover my mouth. How on earth had this person reached me without waking me up? My eyes widened and I attempted to scream, but the hand on my chest moved like lightning to my neck and stifled any noise I might have made. I stared into the eyes of my captor with resentment, but relaxed under his grip. I would go along with this for now.

Our eyes stayed locked for minutes. I am not one to be frightened easily, and I was coming to feel as if I had fallen into an absurd sort of staring contest. Still, those eyes...there was something familiar about them. They had watched me as I bought fish. My stomach sank as I recalled the now common feeling of being watched. Was it he? Or had causality really gotten the better of me? I did not have much time to think as a small white handkerchief emerged from inside his sleeve and he surprisingly gently pressed it over my nose and mouth. No words were spoken, only his breath, which slowly became an echo, and then faded into silence. My long sought after sleep came to me with the enchanting smell of jasmine and only a faint odour of perspiration, which I knew belonged to him.

I awoke the next day to a bright sun that seemed to have been out for hours. I stretched and walked to my window. Indeed the sun had risen high over the ocean and reflected twice as brightly into my bedroom. Looking down at my small wooden dresser that Father has positioned just under my windowsill, I noticed something that had not been there before. A beautiful red flower with a blue centre lay proudly on the hardwood, seeming to show itself off in the sunlight. I picked it up and ran its tender petals across my face. I knew to whom it belonged. I did not want to admit it, because that would be surrendering, but I knew. And for reasons beyond my understanding, I was happy.

Of course, I had risen late and had to face my father, who was busy brushing my horse. I turned red with shame upon seeing this, as he only performed that action to let me know that I had slacked in my responsibilities. I apologized, but he only threw my horse blanket at me and pointed at a fair sized hole. I bowed to him piously and slung it over my shoulder. I would gather the thread to mend it in the city. After a quick trip inside to gather my sandals and a walking stick, I was on my way down the well-trodden dirt path that led to the town of Kumihama.

On my way I passed the small clearing that I knew all too well. My bathing spot on the river lay only a few metres beyond that point. Deciding that I was rather too grimy to go into town, I happily pranced into the forest, disrobing as I walked. Soon the trees grew closer together, married by spiderwebs still sparkling from the morning's dew. Being off the path, I removed my sandals, yearning to feel the strong earth and feathery grass beneath my feet. My body now free, I felt close to my brothers and sisters of the forest ground and canopy, and the sound of rushing water began to call to me. With a small distance remaining, I began to run.

Branches whipped by my face as I anticipated the coolness of the pool that I had come to call mine. Within seconds the dense forest cleared, revealing my spot—the only place in the world that a girl like me could ever call her own. Carefully I lay my things on a large rock and slowly submerged myself in the water, savoring the feeling as it crept up my legs, my spine, my shoulders. Finally I dove completely under the surface of the bright blue element that had come to be my friend over time. I laughed, sending clumsy bubbles racing to the surface, as I chased the tiny fish in their tightly secure groups. The creatures that managed to live their entire lives underwater had always fascinated me. It frustrated me that I would never know what it was like to never be able to set foot on land, and likewise I wondered if the fish ever were envious of humans for the same reason. After a long moment of pondering, I realized that I had been underwater for longer than I'd meant to. I allowed my body to float effortlessly to the surface, splashing the water high above my head as I penetrated the glassy surface. Catching my breath, I took in my familiar surroundings.

Something was odd, but I could not decide what it was. My clothes remained in the spot where I'd left them, as did my stick. I swam to the other side of the pool, near the powerful waterfall that provided me with cleansing water yet threatened to take life if anything were to disrespect its space. Only a short distance away from the line where the water met the earth, a young bush leaned lazily against the mountain from which the waterfall cascaded. Drawn to this creature, I climbed out of the water and moved in for closer inspection. As I had suspected, there was something strange about this bush. Tangled in its branches and reaching out from underneath the foliage was a long black scarf of soft but strong material. Climbing under the branches, I attempted to untangle the foreign object, tensely wondering who had found my spot, and why he or she would have left something like this in such an unusual place. Indeed much effort would have had to gone into getting the fabric so entangled in the wood.

The scarf was nearly halfway freed when a sharp wind brushed across my bottom. Startled, I scrambled away from my project and started to stand when I felt a human presence behind me. I froze. As a woman—especially as a virgin—if anyone were to lay eyes upon me in this state, I would have utterly disgraced myself. For a long time, I refused to look behind. I crouched in silence, praying that the eyes burning into my bare back were only in my imagination.

After a number of minutes, the coarse fabric of a riding glove touched my shoulder blade, and I knew it was over. My body stiffened to its touch as a single finger ran purposefully to the center of my back and down the length of my spine. I closed my eyes tightly to fight back the tears—an effort that was clearly futile. Understanding that I was frozen in my spot, the owner of the hand grasped my hair tightly and pulled me to my feet. I screamed in pain, but that too was useless. No one was around, nor would anyone be. This had been my secret spot for a reason. The other hand placed itself heavily on my shoulder and spun me around. I refused to open my eyes. Deep inside, I forced myself to believe that if I just didn't see this person, he would somehow cease to exist. I had decided that this person was male because of both the presence of heavy riding gloves and the sheer strength with which he manipulated me. His gender only made my predicament worse, and I was given an even better reason to never open my eyes again.

I heard something hit the ground, and a moment later a bare hand grabbed the back of my neck and pulled me into the body to which it belonged. Cotton grazed the front of my body as I was suspended in time, held in place with only the sounds of the roaring waterfall and two bodies breathing heavily against one another.

"Open." A slightly muffled voice reached my ear. The word had merely been whispered, but I obeyed immediately. My gaze fell on the same eyes that had stared into mine the night before. Fresh paint had been placed around them, and the mask continued to cover the rest of the face. The free hand traced lines lightly down the right side of my body, following the curves that I was beginning to acquire.

"Why are you doing this?" I muttered breathlessly, shivering to a touch that I had never experienced before. "Please...this cannot happen to me yet. I'm still a—"

The hand at my side quickly touched my mouth to silence me. The man in front of me only shook his head, never losing eye contact. "No," he whispered, letting his fingertips press gently against my lower abdomen, "not anymore."

My mind raced to the dream I'd had the night before, and the flower that had seemed to place itself under my window. The breath, the scent, the quiet groans of passion that a man makes so beautifully. Though these dreams had haunted me constantly since well before the onset of puberty, the last one had been induced by a man much stronger than myself, with means of manipulating me in any way that he saw fit.

His eyes softened as he realized that I understood what was going on. In a strange way, he seemed to be close to me, though I had never met him. The hand on my neck loosened its grip and lay loosely about my shoulders, the other hand pressing against my lower back, causing my body to push into the dark, thick texture of his gi. I lay my head against his chest as all sorts of questions popped into my mind, each one more puzzling than the next. And most importantly of all, where was I destined to go from here? Father had often told me that the winds of change can sometimes be cruel and unforgiving, but I had not understood the full gravity of his words until then. In an instant, my world had been turned upside down, and there was no way to stop it.

Pulling my head into his, he kissed my forehead through the material covering his mouth. As he did, his hands traveled behind his head and untied one of the knots, bringing the ends of the fabric around my head instead, eliminating my vision comfortably but effectively. Then, carefully, the hands that had so aggressively taken advantage of me before picked my body up and lay it down on the soft grass. Clothing rustled, the sounds muted by the rush of water that constantly penetrated the silence of the area. Understanding that I could not overpower this man, and that I would most likely not be accepted at my home anyway once my family discovered that which I was lacking, I stayed obediently in my place.

Without sparing much time, the bare hands returned to my body, this time exploring me in a way more delicate than ever I could have imagined. Fingers lightly swirled over my eyes, across my cheeks, down my neck and to my chest that rose and fell urgently. Gathering what bit of courage I had, I rose a shivering hand to meet his, which had stopped above my heart to allow this interaction. Feeling the warmth of his strong hand beneath my own, I somewhat eagerly used both hands to explore the rest of this thing that had me in its power. The warm but coarse hand led to a forearm that was much smaller than those of the ox drivers and blacksmiths I'd been familiar with in my town, but I found it surprising that the muscle did not move as I touched it. Moving my way up I found an upper arm in the same condition, only slightly larger. This body had grown hard through a clearly tumultuous time that I could never imagine, and yet it allowed itself to love, at least in its own way. As I continued on to the chest and protruding abdominal muscles, our weight shifted and I could once again feel his breath against my face, and this time a new sensation. Long, soft hair brushed against my ears and undoubtedly became intertwined with my own. The energy from his arms on either side of me, his stomach pressed against mine, found its way into the very depths of my soul. I grasped the back of his head in one hand and firmly held his muscular lower back in the other, no longer fearing him but craving him. Fully understanding that I was now his in every way, he allowed me the sweet release of a kiss. Contrary to my assumptions about these people, his lips were soft, and the ever-present aroma of jasmine overtook us. I returned his kiss, pulling his body into mine as if I wished for us to somehow become one being. I could not be close enough to him as his fingertips pressed harshly now into my side, scratching my porcelain skin that had never consciously known the touch of a man.

His lips moved away from mine and I whined in protest only to be silenced by the sweet sensation of a tongue at the top of my neck, followed by the elegant softness of the lips once more. Once his kiss found my collarbone, his hand gently began to caress one of my breasts—a place that was forbidden to all but the one who claimed it. The newness of the sensation brought goosebumps to the surface of what seemed like my entire body, and a new function brought itself to the forefront as I found my hips rocking against the empty air. I did not know exactly what I wanted, but apparently my body did. I blushed at the involuntary movement, but a hand quickly came to soothe the burning of my cheek. Strong knees placed themselves between my own and spread them apart such that the wind could relieve the overbearing heat generated there. I could feel each muscle of his smooth thighs as they slid across my own, positioning his center over mine. A faint smile crossed my flushed face as I felt for the first time in my memory the length of his manhood firm against my lower belly. I felt honoured to be the one that he had chosen to take as his own, to touch with not only his hands, but the holy representation of masculinity that he had been graced with. I tensed in preparation for our bodies to unite, but felt hesitation from him instead. My nails scratched at his surely already scarred back, begging, crying for his soft touch inside as well as out. Shifting his weight to one hand, he used the other to reach behind my head and untie the knot on which I had been lying. As he cast the loose garment aside, my eyes squinted against the afternoon sun. It seemed as if only a shadow hovered over me, pulsing heavily with quickened breath.

I blinked and my eyes came to focus on a face that was unfamiliar to me. Living in a town as small as mine, one came to know, rather intimately, every member of our little community. Yet despite the black paint that imposed a bold line across both eyes and disappeared into the hairline, I was positive that I had never seen this beautiful man before. I smiled faintly and traced a single finger over the curves of his face, gathering bits of perspiration that rolled down his skin. A very slight but true smile hinted in his expression then, and I understood then that happiness was not something common for this man, despite his apparent young age. He could not possibly have had more than twenty-five years, yet his eyes alone told stories of torment that one would expect from an elder. I felt compassion for him, and wanted then more than ever to make his soul flutter like mine did.

Reaching down to his thighs, I wrapped my legs around his waist and pulled him toward me with every bit of strength that I had, staring fiercely into the eyes that had captivated me from the beginning. Lowering himself onto his forearms, he rested his forehead against my own and I felt the head of his manhood nuzzling the velvety entrance to my most sacred possession. I closed my eyes and allowed his smell to soothe the pain that I felt as his hardness pressed against the maidenhood that had only been taken the night before. His fingers grasped my shoulders, his breath heavy against my face as both of our bodies tensed together. Seeming to use his entire body, he pressed a final time against the barrier that separated us and it seemed to shatter. My back arched and I screamed in pain and ecstasy, the new sensation of being touched inside of my body overwhelming me. Kindly, he paused to allow me to recover, holding my head in one hand and repeatedly kissing my cheek as if he were my husband. As if we had known each other forever. Isn't that every girl's dream, really? To lose her virginity to the one man who will stand by her and love her until the end of time? I could at least pretend.

I ran both hands over my lover's back, feeling each detail and memorizing them. Long black hair brushed against both of my cheeks as he began to slowly pull himself out of me, then push back inside. Each thrust became easier as he built up a rhythm, and in response I tightened my ankles about his lower back, gently clawing at his soft skin, becoming lost in the moment that had been cast upon me against my will. My heart soared at each small noise my lover made, moaning, growling softly as he took me. I was happy because those noises, the feelings that he bore, arose because of me. I could please this poor thing that could not know love, and this was not something that I took lightly. I had learned about his kind from my father—supposedly heartless creatures that only knew death and destruction. Yet here this one was. And he was not only feeling love, but allowing me to feel it, too. At that point, I knew only that I had to learn more about him.

Holding me tightly, in a moment of aggression and passion, my lover thrust into me harder than he had before. Feeling a new pain, I strained instinctually to push away from him, but he was enwrapped in an instinct of his own, and I was not about to get away. With his arms wrapped around me so that I could not move, he moaned desperately in climax and thrust his seed into me. A warmth deep inside of me signaled that I belonged to this strange man, whose name I did not know. I wanted to cry, but for what reason I knew not. I felt love for him, but how could anyone be sure of love? Especially in these circumstances, when pleasure can so easily disguise any ill nature. He saw the sadness in my eyes and pulled out of me carefully, but continued to stay close. Moving off of me and onto his side, he pulled my slight body on top of his and held me, allowing my head to rest on his rising and falling chest. His heartbeat proved a soothing rhythm that I never wanted to cease hearing. As the noise grew more faint, as his smell grew stronger, as the world around me began to fade away I realized that I was falling asleep. The wetness that dribbled down my thighs and onto his did not matter, nor did our being in the open forest. Only the slowing beat, beat, beat that meant that my love was still alive, and an enchanting smell of jasmine...

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