tagSci-Fi & FantasyTouched Ch. 03

Touched Ch. 03

bystarscape©

Grant and I stood at one end of a huge room stacked high with tower after tower of storage containers.

"Where do we start?" I asked, overwhelmed by the scope of the task before us.

"Let's move this section over here first." He walked over to one pile and handed me a wide, shallow container.

We worked in silence, slowly clearing the space in front of us.

I'd longed to see him for nearly three weeks, but now that I was here, seeing him was not enough. There was so much I wanted to say, so much I couldn't. Though I could barely stand it, the tension between us palatable, I said nothing, fearful to start down a path from which there would be no turning back.

Grant was first to breech the quiet. "I was disappointed you didn't return my messages."

"I, I'm sorry," I responded, my back facing him as I fiddled with the container in front of me, my cheeks burning. "I, I've been really busy lately."

"I didn't know if maybe I had done something to offend you."

"Not at all. I intended to contact you, but I...I haven't been feeling well and only just returned to work." I hesitated. "I was really surprised Oliver agreed to send me here so soon after I got back."

"He owed me a favor."

I turned around to face him. "So you asked Oliver to send me here?"

Grant nodded. "I didn't know how else to get you to talk to me about what happened."

I felt my palms sweating under my gloves and my heart rise to my throat. "I don't know what you're—"

"When we touched in the lift."

I froze, incredulous that he would, that he could, dare to speak the words.

"I, I, I d-don't kn-know what..."

"I sealed the entrance behind us and before you got here scanned every cubic millimeter of this room; there are no monitoring devices. We can speak openly."

"Are you sure?" I asked in a hoarse whisper.

"I promise."

I pressed my hand to my chest to quell my thumping heart and with wobbly legs lowered myself to the floor, too overwhelmed to speak.

Grant knelt beside me. "Are you okay?"

I nodded, staring ahead with unseeing eyes.

"I know you're afraid," he began softly, "and I wish you could see inside my head right now, so you'd know you can trust me." He took a deep breath. "Ever since...we touched, I have replayed that moment in my mind more times than I can count. I'm filled with thoughts of touching you. I know it's wrong, but I can't escape these thoughts, not even in my dreams. I...was afraid I would lose my mind if I didn't see you again, talk to you, to see if...to see if you were similarly affected."

I turned my head. Grant's face was pale, his mouth and brow tight. I saw fear behind his eyes, as if he dreaded my response.

I lifted my hand and touched it to my cheek. My eyes flitted as I remembered the sensation of his rough skin against my face. "It's...it's been overwhelming," I admitted at last.

"After we met, and then there was the walk in the arboretum...I wanted to touch you again so badly I started to..." I gulped, swallowing the words. I couldn't do it, couldn't say aloud what I'd spent a lifetime denying to the entire world.

"Touch yourself?" he whispered.

My body trembled as I looked down, hands wringing in my lap.

"It's all right, Astrid," Grant reassured, his voice gentle. "I do it."

Heart pounding, I dared to lift my eyes and found his gazing at me. His face was kind. "I...I touch myself. Do you?"

I let out a sigh of relief, not realizing until that moment I had been holding my breath. "Yes," I confessed, choking out the word.

His body relaxed. We sat for several minutes, looking at each other, our eyes speaking without words.

Once again he was first to break the silence. "I'd really like to hear the rest of your story, if you'll share it with me. You were talking about what happened after our walk in the arboretum."

I nodded and took a deep breath. "After that I became preoccupied with what happened...when we touched. Obsessed, really," I admitted. "The only thing that seemed to help was...touching myself. I, I know how to induce the same kind of feelings as the SxTC, only when I do it, it feels even better."

"You masturbate?"

"Masturbate?"

"It's the word for self-stimulation, to give yourself pleasure."

I gasped. I had no idea there was a word for what I did.

"I know when I masturbate, it feels a lot better than using the SxTC," Grant divulged.

"You touch yourself too?"

He smiled and settled in beside me. "Every day. I find it relieves tension, and has made it easier to behave normally in public. Doesn't it do the same for you?"

"I guess I...never thought about it in that way before, but I suppose it does. Or at least it did until recently. Instead of experiencing relief, my urges grew stronger and stronger. Soon I was...masturbating twice a day, every day. Even though I wanted to stop, I couldn't. I became distracted, forgetful, had trouble sleeping. One of my friends even reported me to the Ministry of Health. I thought I was losing my mind, and afraid of what I might do if I saw you again."

Grant peeled the glove off his right hand. "I'm dying to touch you again, Astrid," he said, his voice low and hoarse, the discarded glove clenched in his bare hand as it lay tense in his lap.

I pulled off my glove and reached out, hand trembling, until my fingertips made their first tentative contact with his skin. His fingers uncurled, dropping the glove, accepting my hand in its place.

In unison, we shivered and sucked in our breaths. A revelation of warmth and strength, his hand dwarfed mine, his fingers long and sensual with curves and lines so much like my own. A surge of energy shot up my arm and streaked through the rest of my body in a flash, followed by a flood of euphoria.

I drew away and removed my other glove. He followed suit and our hands reunited. Fingers interlaced, we slid them together and apart, again and again, exploring the sensation.

My heart overflowed with joy and without warning, the urge to giggle bubbled up inside me. Pulling away one of my hands, I covered my mouth just before they erupted. Our eyes met and Grant, too, began to laugh, and we sat facing each other, hidden among the towers of storage containers, shaking and shuddering with suppressed laughter.

~*~*~


"How long have you known you were different?" I asked, tracing the outline of his hand again and again with my forefinger as we sat next to each other. I shifted, pressing my thigh against the muscular warmth of his.

A contended smile grew on Grant's face as he closed his eyes and leaned into me, accepting the contact. "For as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is being hospitalized after I embraced my pod-brother."

I gasped and sat up straight. "How did it happen?"

Opening his eyes, he turned his head to look at me. "James and I were playing a game. I don't even remember what it was, only that over the course of playing, he said something which struck me as really funny and I got to laughing. Pretty soon he was laughing too, which made me laugh harder, and it just kept building until we ended up lying on the floor with tears running out our eyes. Caleb, who was busy with our brother Felix, admonished us from the next room, telling us to settle down and be quiet.

"James and I got on our feet, giggling and snickering as we tried to do as we were told. Then something just came over me and on impulse I reached out and embraced him. I remember how stiff his body went just before he tore away and ran to Caleb screaming. I froze, unable to move, horrified by what I had done. The look on our caretaker's face when he saw me...I couldn't bear the shame of it. I ran straight to the decontamination chamber and stayed there, hiding in a corner until someone from the Center of Health and Wellness came to retrieve me."

"What did they do to you?"

"A lot of it is hazy. I remember being kept in a white, windowless room with nothing but a bed. I was asked a lot of questions about my behavior, and told I was sick and needed treatment. I remember periods of numbness and periods of being strapped down and in great pain. Eventually they said I was cured and returned me to my pod."

"How long were you hospitalized?"

"I don't know. Many days, possibly weeks. When you're four years old and separated from your family unit, it feels like forever."

"What was it like when you got back?"

"Everyone acted like they were afraid of me, bracing their bodies whenever I was in the room, flinching if they thought I came too closely. But the last thing I wanted to do was touch anything, let alone another human being."

"Did it get better?" I asked, leaning against him again.

Grant relaxed and closed his eyes once more. "It took a few months, but they came around eventually. By that point whatever pharmaceutical treatments the doctors had given me had long since dissipated, but I had learned my lesson well and was never caught engaging in unnatural activities again." He paused, taking my hand and lacing his fingers with mine. "What about you? Were you ever hospitalized?"

I shook my head. "Amelia knew about me since I was an infant—she said I touched her face the very day I arrived—but she never reported me, even after catching me on numerous occasions with my gloves off. I was always grateful to her for that, but after hearing your story I realize I never fully appreciated the great lengths and risks my caretaker took to protect me from myself."

"I'm very surprised she would allow your behavior to continue without sending you for treatment, especially if she caught you that many times. Do you think she's like us?"

I thought for a moment. "I don't know; maybe. We did have a bond that seemed different from those she had with my pod-siblings. Still, she seemed very perplexed by my behavior. I think Amelia pitied me. She understood I was different from the others, but through no fault of my own; I was born that way.

"She spoke on occasion of rumors where defectives disappeared and never returned. I think she saw me as a special challenge, and believed I was salvageable, given enough effort and discipline."

"She must have been very fond of you. It sounds like she didn't want you to come to harm."

I nodded. "Once, when I was feeling very low about myself, she told me she thought I was special in some way. I was delivered into her care four months after my pod-siblings arrived and share no genetic relationship with them. The mystery of where I came from intrigued her. Why was I given to her instead of being returned to my original family unit, where I could be raised with my true pod-siblings? Where was I the first four months of my life? She knew better, though, than to ask too many questions."

"It is an intriguing mystery. Have you ever tried to find out on your own?"

"No. She implied bad things would happen to both of us if I dug too deeply. Curious as I've always been, I'm not willing to put her at risk in order to satisfy my curiosity. After everything she's done for me, I owe her that."

~*~*~


"Have you ever met anyone else who's like us?" I asked a couple of hours later as we took a break from all the lifting and carrying.

Grant nodded, his arm draped over the top of the stack he rested against. "A few."

I leaned forward. "Really? Who?"

"I...I promised not to reveal their identities. I'm sorry; I hope you can understand."

"I do," I replied, crestfallen.

"But it was because of meeting them I felt drawn to you."

"What do you mean?"

"When I first encountered these individuals, I felt like we were connected, somehow. Subtle things—the way they held themselves, or looked at me when we spoke—it was almost like...an invitation to reach out."

"Weren't you afraid of exposing yourself?" I asked, incredulous.

"Of course. I never would have dreamed of making the first move. There was no way I was going to risk being hospitalized again."

"But at some point, you did take the risk."

"Yes, but it happened slowly over time. Paying close attention to body language, having conversations with double meanings, things that only...people like us could understand. Until you, I'd never been the one to take the initiative; I always allowed the other person to be the first to risk exposure. But once contact had been made and we'd had the chance to speak openly, we shared information, signals and hints which helped us to identify one another, that sort of thing."

"What was it about me that gave me away?" I asked, frowning. Elated as I was to finally meet someone with whom I could speak so freely, I had spent my entire life hiding my identity. It troubled me, the realization I could be so easily detected.

Grant smiled. "For starters, you seemed...like you were trying very hard to be disinterested."

I shook my head, confused. "What does that mean?"

"Most people have an affect that is...I don't know how to describe it exactly, but they seem flat. You know they're not interested. Just before we met, I saw you outside; your eyes were closed, your face turned toward the sun and the breeze; I could see how the beauty of the morning affected you.

"It was enough of a clue that I thought it was worth the risk to engage you. You were pretty determined to warn me away, though, and I was about to give up and leave you alone, but then the lift malfunctioned, throwing us together. The way you reacted after we brushed against each other confirmed my suspicions."

"A normal person would have been pounding on the door, shouting for a doctor, desperate to escape," I acknowledged.

"Yes, or passed out from fright. You stayed calm, pretended like nothing happened. That's why I decided to keep talking to you."

"You were so nonchalant, I thought I had imagined the whole thing at first. But the way your touch made me feel..." My stomach flipped and I shivered when he took my hand and squeezed it. "I never could have imagined the sensation of another person's skin against mine."

We stood quietly for a time when something occurred to me. "Since you've met other people like us before, does that mean you've touched them too?"

"I have," Grant replied, nodding.

"How does it feel? Is it always so...exhilarating?"

"Each experience has been different, but always positive. The first time was especially powerful, probably because it was the first time and I didn't know exactly what to expect. Touching you is more like the first time," he said, stroking the back of my hand with his fingertips, "but still different. There were times afterward when I dreamed about my experiences, but...not in the same way as it is with you. Those dreams were about touching in general. I dream about you, specifically. That's never happened before."

"I dream about you too," I admitted, my heart soaring.

"I've even dreamt about doing this," he revealed, cupping my chin in his hand as he moved in closer, drawing my face to his.

My eyes widened when his lips met mine. I pulled away in shock.

"I-I'm sorry," Grant apologized, dropping his hand from my face. He backed up and took a few steps away from me. "I shouldn't have done that." He turned around, bracing the back of his neck with his hands.

I went to him and walked around so I could see his face. I reached up and touched one of his hands; it was ice cold.

"Please. Don't apologize. I'm glad you touched lips with me," I insisted. "I-I've thought about doing that with you too, but I didn't understand why I would want to touch you like that. I just...you took me by surprise. I couldn't believe it was happening. I would like to touch lips with you again, now that I know what to expect."

Grant lifted his eyes and met my gaze. His body relaxed and he lowered his arms, taking my hand with them. He held the tips of my fingers, his caress so light I could barely feel it, but remained standing where he was, as if he was afraid to move closer.

This time I came to him. I lifted my hand and cradled his jaw, wonderfully scratchy, so different from the smoothness of my own face. My fingers rubbed against the grain, marveling at the texture. On instinct my other hand reached behind his head, fingers slipping into the hair at the nape of his neck, and gently pulled him toward me.

My eyes closed, and so did his, as we came together. The contrast of his soft lips with the roughness of his face sent a thrill down my spine. I felt a pulling between my legs, followed by heat, starting as a tiny point and growing outward, sweeping my body until I was bathed in its warmth. I wanted this feeling, this touching, to last forever, but after too short a time our lips parted.

I opened my eyes to discover his shining back at me.

"That was much better," I managed to say, fighting to find my voice.

Grant smiled, the broad smile I enjoyed so much which crinkled his eyes and coaxed the tiniest dimple from the corner of his mouth out of hiding. "Thank you. That kiss was more than I ever imagined."

"Kiss? Is that what it's called, to touch lips? A kiss?"

He nodded. "I've read about it, even seen images of people doing it, but I had no idea it would be so pleasurable."

"You've seen images of people touching? How? Where?" I asked, gaping at him.

"There's something I need to show you," Grant answered, beckoning me.

He led me to the far side of the room and stopped at a stack of containers no different from the others filling the space. Squatting down, he took hold of one and with effort slid the entire pile forward.

"Can you help move this out of the way?" he asked. Taking me by the hand, he guided me as I squeezed into the narrow space behind the stack.

With both our efforts, the heavy load slid across the floor with greater ease. When we'd moved it far enough to satisfy him, Grant nodded and gestured toward the stack which had been behind it.

"What are we doing?" I asked as we took hold of the next pile.

He grunted. "What I want to show you is buried behind this row of boxes."

I straightened and looked past the tower we'd just moved out of the way. "How many of these stacks are we going to have to move?"

"Only six more."

I suppressed a sigh and squeezed behind the next stack.

~*~*~


Our foreheads glistening with perspiration, with a groan of relief we slid the last stack out of the way.

"I really appreciate your help," Grant said, smiling at me as he wiped the sweat from his brow. "It went much faster than usual."

I groaned. "I can't imagine doing all that on my own."

"When you see it, you'll understand why I had to keep it well concealed."

"The images of people touching?"

"Yes. But it's so much more than that." His eyes gleamed with anticipation. "Here, take this. It's in the container at the bottom of this pile."

Creating a new stack behind us, one by one we removed the storage containers until only one remained.

Taking my hand, Grant helped me onto the floor and sat cross-legged beside me. He released the latch and opened the lid.

I looked inside and saw a large number of unknown objects of varying sizes encased in protective foam. As he removed each one, laying them carefully on the floor beside us, I wondered what treasures lay inside the cushioned cells. When at last he reached the third, bottom layer, Grant reached for a particular cuboid and slipped it out.

Fidgeting, I waited impatiently for him to remove the item from its casing.

To my surprise he revealed a small wooden rectangular object, slightly larger than my hand, like a box with no lid. Its entire surface was covered in panels of varying shapes and sizes, filled with geometric patterns in shades of brown. Each was uniquely complex and as breathtaking as the ones surrounding it.

I gasped and reached out my hand to touch its smooth, rich surface. Never had I seen a more beautiful object. "Oh, Grant," I breathed. "It's so beautiful! What is it?"

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