Welcome To The Harem

It's All in the Game by Plausible Deniability
Summary: Some business, some pleasure; and another character makes an appearance in young CSM's life.

This is part four of the "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" series. You may want to read the first three parts to get the most out of this story, but you should be able to follow it even if you don't. Pre-XF, young CSM/Mrs. Mulder, young CSM/Cassandra Spender - strong R (sexual situations; mature language)

Title: "It's All in the Game" (1/2)

Author: Plausible Deniability

Address: pdeniability@hotmail.com

Category: S R A

Rating: a strong R (sexual situations; mature language)

Spoilers: Concerns events hinted at in Talitha Cumi (3.24) and Patient X (5.13)/The Red and the Black (5.14); also contains a name and references to a pivotal incident from Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man (4.7).

Keywords: Pre-XF, young CSM/Mrs. Mulder, young CSM/Cassandra Spender

Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the television program "The X Files" are the creations and property of Chris Carter, Fox Broadcasting, and Ten-Thirteen Productions, and have been used without permission. The song "It's All in the Game" was written by Carl Sigman and Charles Dawes and originally recorded by Tommy Edwards. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: Some business, some pleasure; and another character makes an appearance in young CSM's life.

This is part four of the "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" series. You may want to read the first three parts to get the most out of this story, but you should be able to follow it even if you don't. Just keep in mind that it's the early 1960s, the characters here are still young, and CSM is involved in a clandestine affair with Teena Mulder, the wife of his best friend. If you are interested in reading the preceding stories, you can find them on my website at http://www.Geocities.com/Area51/Dreamworld/2528.

THANKS to Becky, a beta reader made in heaven, and to JenRose, a friend indeed.

FOR Hindy Bradley, who asked me to write more pillow talk.


"Murmuring how she loved me -- she
Too weak, for all her heart's endeavor,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me for ever,
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could tonight's gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain...
-- Robert Browning, "Porphyria's Lover"


Quonochontaug, Rhode Island
September 1963

"We have to get dressed," Teena says drowsily, her head on my shoulder. "Bill will be back soon with Fox."

"Yes," I agree, but neither of us makes any move to get up.

She sighs softly. "I suppose this is the last time I'll see you for at least a few months."

"I suppose so."

"I miss this, when you're not here...I hate the end of summer."

September, and already the sun's warmth is beginning to fade. Soon the world will begin to die around us, the leaves changing and falling and withering to dry scraps. The winter grey will roll in from the sea. The house here, the beach house on Quonochontaug, will be closed up, the windows shuttered, Holland covers on the furniture. Teena will move north. I will turn south.

"I hate the end of summer, too."

"Bill will start drinking again," she says. She states it dispassionately, with neither regret nor resignation. "He was fine most of the summer, but he'll start again when we're back on the Vineyard. I know he will."

I draw back and look at her. "You can call me, you know, if it ever gets out of hand."

She laughs mirthlessly. "Why, so you can come charging up and rescue me? Do you really think you would?"

"I don't know," I say. "I might."

And, lying there in the boathouse with her head cradled on my shoulder, I rather think I would. I can just imagine the havoc it would create within the Project: stalwart problem-solver steals chief administrator's wife. A dangerous sort of havoc it would be, too -- one of us would have to go, Bill or I, and I am under no illusions about my own indispensability. Still, I would not think about the danger if Teena called. I care more about her safety than my own.

"We'll be having a party during the holidays," she says. "Bill's promised to corral as many friends as he can into coming to the Vineyard. I can see you then. You could even stay through Christmas. Bill would probably like having someone to celebrate his holiday with."

"I'm not sure if I'll be back in time for Christmas," I say, thinking bleakly of the stark set of rooms I have rented under another name in Dallas. "I'm going to be gone for a little while. I have a job to handle."

"What kind of a job?"

"Teena, you know I can't talk about that."

I feel the sleepy relaxation leaving her long limbs. "I just asked a simple question. There must be *something* about it you can tell me."

"There isn't."

She rolls over onto her stomach. "You and Bill, you're both the same," she says bitterly. "Neither of you trusts me."

I stretch out a hand, and feel in the pocket of my discarded shirt for my cigarettes. "I can't imagine why Bill doesn't trust you."

She darts a resentful glance at me from the corner of her eye. "You know what I mean. And, now that you mention it, that's all the more reason why you should believe that I can keep a secret."

"We're not talking about private concerns here, like whose wife is a bottle blonde or who cheated on his Spanish test in school, Teena. We're talking about classified information. State secrets."

"So you're trustworthy enough to know them and Bill is trustworthy enough to know them, but I'm not?"

I sigh. "It's not simply a case of being trustworthy or not -- "


"-- it's a case of who needs to know. And you don't need to know, Teena. You don't need to know anything about what we do."

She leans her cheek on her hand. "Maybe I want to know. Maybe I want to know because I care about what happens."

"You can't have everything you want in life," I say, with a deep drag on my cigarette. "Trust me. I'm an expert on the subject."

She stares at me. I can feel the resentment growing in her, the sense of ill-use. She has shared her body with me, but I am sharing nothing.

"So that's all you're going to say?" she asks finally, her brows drawn together in a frown. "I'm just a woman and therefore too stupid and too unimportant to know? You're involved and Bill's involved but I'm just supposed to stay home and -- and *worry* all the time?"

"They also serve who only stand and wait."

Teena turns her head away. "Oh, that's very witty. I'm trying to have a serious conversation with you and you're quoting god-damned Milton at me."

"Well, what do you want me to tell you?" I ask. I get up unhappily, and reach for my clothes. "I can't talk about what I do."

"You could at least tell me what this project is that Bill is always working on," she says, getting to her feet. "It has something to do with the Russians, doesn't it? Some kind of an arms race. That's why he goes around looking so pessimistic all the time."

I throw down my cigarette and toe it into the sand. "Teena, let it drop."

She begins pulling on her clothes. "I know I'm right, about what Bill is working on. I can see it in your face."

"Fine, then. Think whatever you like."

"I will," she says airily as she reaches behind her back and fastens her bra. "Besides, I'll bet I already know a lot more about things than you think I do."

My reaction is swift and instinctive. I seize her by the shoulders, and shove her hard against the wall.

"Don't say that again," I tell her savagely. The blood is cold in my veins. "Don't *ever* say that again."

She gazes back at me in shock. "I was only kidding."

"I don't care if you were kidding or not. Just don't say it again." I give her an angry shake, to make sure the message sinks in.

"Stop it." Frightened, she tries to break away.

"No." My grip is like iron. "You're not getting off that easily. Promise, damn it. Promise you won't say it again, not to me or anyone else."

"What's wrong with you? Why is it so important?"

"You know very well why it's so important. We're talking about matters of -- of national security. It's dangerous."

"For God's sake, you make it sound like I have my finger on the button or something -- "

I shake her again. "I'm not playing around here, Teena. It's dangerous to claim you know things. People get killed, saying things like that. Promise me."

She swallows, but her bravado is gone. "All right," she says reluctantly. "I promise."

I draw the first easy breath since she began angling for information, and let her go. The adrenaline begins to subside. She, too, now seems subdued.

She reaches up slowly to rub the spot where only a moment ago my fingers were digging into her flesh. "I'm going to have bruises now, you know."

"I'm sure you'll think of some excuse to give Bill."

She darts a glance at me, half fear, half resentment. "My God, but you're in a mood today."

She doesn't need this from me, I think, but I can't apologize. This is too important. "I have a mood coming to me, every now and then."

Her chin lifts in defiance. "Oh, yes, you have a very hard lot, don't you? Coming up here and fucking me whenever you feel like it..."

"Yes," I say without a trace of humor. "And it's getting harder all the time."


Eastern Airline Flight #198
December 14, 1963

"I know you."

I look over at the thin blonde girl in the aisle seat. "I beg your pardon?"

She smiles at me. "I know you. I work in Washington, doing typing and filing for General Francis. I've seen you in his office."

I reach in my breast pocket and take out a Morley. "Perhaps you've confused me with someone else," I say, coaxing my lighter into flame. "I'm not military."

She laughs. "Oh, I know. I already decided you were State Department or CIA or one of those. But I'm sure I know you. You were in the office once late last year, and then a couple of times this past summer."

I look at her through narrowed eyes. "You have a good memory."

She is pretty, but in a skinny, forgettable way. "Not really. You're just one of the few that made an impression. Most of the civilians who come to see General Francis are balding men over forty. You're not only a lot younger, but you're about the only one I can remember who didn't tip-toe around in awe of him."

She is leaning across the empty seat between us, smiling at me, clearly expecting conversation. I resign myself to trading the obligatory civil question or two. "You were in Texas on business, I suppose?"

"Oh, no, I'm just a girl from the typing pool, hardly important enough to go jetting around the country on business. I was a bridesmaid in a girlfriend's wedding. How about you?"

I think of a sunny Dallas plaza, of the crisp air and the excited onlookers and then a familiar well-shaped head exploding in a burst of brain and blood. I think of sitting in a theatre just a few shell-shocked minutes afterward, smoking, numb inside, and suddenly afraid of myself. "A little business," I say. "And then some loose ends to tie up."

"You're part of the new Administration, I suppose?"

I glance out the airplane window, only to meet my own reflection. It is already dark outside; darkness falls so early these days. "No, I don't work for President Johnson," I answer. "Although you could say that he owes me a big favor..."


Chilmark, Massachusetts
December 23, 1963

"How many lovers did you have before me?"

Teena is in a talkative mood today. Perhaps it is the novelty of the situation. For once we are in a real bed, not on the damp sand of the Quonochontaug boathouse or the rough cold earth of the woodshed behind this house. To my surprise, she came to me this afternoon here in the guest room.

Her little boy is down the hall in his room sleeping the innocent sleep of the very young, and Bill is gone to the mainland until dinner, Christmas shopping. I am not sure why Teena suddenly decided to take the risk of meeting me under Bill's roof -- before today, she adamantly refused even to consider it -- but I am glad of it, and not only for the superficial reasons of lust and a firm mattress. I have been needing an afternoon like this one very badly.

"So," she prods, "how many?"

"Lovers, or just women I had sex with?"

She thinks for a minute. "Women you had sex with, I suppose."

"Counting all of them, then, five. That includes a couple of times that I paid for it."

She wrinkles her nose. "I can't imagine paying for it."

"I can't imagine you having to pay for it," I say, laughing.

She giggles, her hair fanned out over the pillow. Teena in a happy mood is a joy to behold: lips in a bewitching curve, light dancing in her eyes. It takes me right out of myself, out of the brooding pattern I had fallen into. I feel alive again.

"Well, I was out of the country at the time, and the solitude was getting to me," I excuse myself. "Besides, I was younger then, too. It seemed more -- urgent."

"*More* urgent?" She rolls her eyes. "I hope the poor girl could walk when you were finished."

"It's different with a prostitute. Very businesslike. You strike a bargain and you do it and you get the hell out."

"Mmm-hmm," she says with a knowing smirk. "Why does that scenario sound distressingly familiar?"

Her tone is so arch and so playful that I can't help grinning. "I'm not the one with a husband who persists in coming home."

"If you had a husband, my darling, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

I chuckle, and close my eyes contentedly. For too many weeks now I had been waking up alone, dispirited, empty. Thank God for this day. Thank God for Teena, and for the renewing experience of making love to her in a warm bed on a sparkling winter afternoon. This is exactly what I needed.

She reaches out, and brushes a lock of hair from my forehead. "Who is Cassandra?" she asks.

"Cassandra?" I smile bemusedly at her. "Where did you hear that name?"

"Bill mentioned her. Who is she?" There is a note of something almost like anxiousness in her voice.

"Just a girl I met on an airplane. I took her to a Christmas party in D.C., and for some reason that seemed to amuse Bill."

"He said she has nice legs."

"I suppose she does," I agree, but without much enthusiasm.

Teena is silent for a moment, thinking. "Did you sleep with her?"

I give a startled laugh. "No."

"Why not?" Teena asks. "She turned you down, or you didn't really try?"

"I didn't try," I say, hands tucked behind my head. "Teena, she's just a girl. Just a secretary. We were stuck together on a plane, and I had been away for a long time, and a party sounded like a good idea. I didn't even think she'd come with me when I asked her."

"Do you think she would have let you sleep with her if you'd tried?"

"I don't know," I say honestly. "Maybe. Probably."

Teena lies still for a moment, digesting this. After lengthy reflection, she seems to decide that my account passes muster. She raises herself up on one elbow and leans over me, running her hand over my chest in a caress.

My response is immediate. I reach up and pull her down, rolling her under me.

"Too bad for Cassandra," Teena says huskily as I kiss her neck and enter her in one quick, impassioned thrust. "She doesn't know what she's missing..."


Washington, DC
December 27, 1963

The corner drug store is pretty much deserted on this post-Christmas Friday afternoon. I set the carton of Morleys on the counter, and reach for my wallet.

There is a tapping on the store window. I turn my head, and see a blonde girl on the other side of the glass, smiling and trying to get my attention. Cassandra.

I stroll out, the Morleys tucked under my arm. It is a cold day, and the wind is whipping her hair into her face. She laughs, and pushes the errant strands back behind her ears. "Well, hello," she says, beaming. "I wasn't expecting to bump into you."

"No, I didn't even know you lived near here."

She blushes. "Well, I don't, really. I was just in the area. I had some work to catch up on for General Francis."

There is something in the way she says it which makes me think she is lying. But the suspicion that immediately pops into my head, that she has been haunting this street corner purely in the hope of spotting me, seems too improbable for serious consideration.

"I was wondering if I'd hear from you," she says. "You mentioned at that party that you might call me."

Now it is my turn to sound insincere. "Well, I was out of town for Christmas, visiting some friends. I just got back late last night."

She smiles wanly. "That's okay. I understand."

"Really, I was. You met one of them, in fact -- Bill Mulder. The one who kept teasing me at the party about having kept you a closely-guarded secret."

She laughs. "Oh, that one."

"Anyway, he has a house up on Martha's Vineyard, and I spent the holiday with his family."

She smiles again. I take out a cigarette and light it, cupping the flame with my hand against the wind. Why doesn't she just say good-bye now, I think with annoyance, so we can both be on our way?

"He was nice," she says.

"Yes, he's a good friend."

She bites her lip, and says in a rush, "I was just wondering -- you don't have any plans for New Year's Eve yet, do you?" She breaks into a rosy blush.

"New Year's Eve?" I grope for an excuse, but on top of the slight of never having called her, nothing seems satisfactory. "No, no plans."

"Oh, I'm so glad. I have these tickets, these two tickets to the party in the ballroom of the Watergate. Would you like to go with me?"

I don't want to go. And yet how can I say no, trapped here on this windy street corner with her? Besides, it is probably wiser to stay in her good graces. She is General Francis's secretary. If Francis is ever connected with what happened in Dealy Plaza, she can place me in his office on at least three different occasions before November 22. She knows I was in Texas, too.

"Sure," I say reluctantly, playing with my cigarette. "I'd love to."

She beams.


The Watergate Hotel, Washington, D.C.
December 31, 1963

"The orchestra is good, don't you think?" Cassandra asks. "And not too loud. I hate having to shout over the music."

I nod my head. The party is crowded, but we have one of the best tables in the ballroom. We have been here for two hours now, drinking and listening to the music and making stilted small talk.

Cassandra leans over the back of her chair, watching the bandleader sing "Blue Velvet." She is decked out in a powder-pink cocktail dress which I suspect she bought specially for this night. She looks pretty. Not spectacular, but pretty.

"I like this song," she says, turning her head in my direction. "But Bobby Vinton does it better."

I nod again. Indifferently, I notice that Bill is right. She does have nice legs.

She glances back at me, and catches me staring. "What are you looking at?"

"Your legs."

She smiles in transparent pleasure. "Really? I didn't know there were any leg men left. I thought everyone was a breast man these days."

"Actually, I like to eat the whole chicken."

It takes a moment for her to process the innuendo -- Teena, I think critically, would have laughed immediately -- and then she breaks into an expression of scandalized delight. "You're trying to make me blush."

"I'll behave myself from now on."

She smiles and says coyly, "No, don't do that."

I ought to be enjoying this, I tell myself. She's a pretty girl and she's gotten herself dressed up for me and it's patently obvious that she wants to flirt. And yet I'm apathetic, just marking time until the evening ends. Cassandra bores me. When all is said and done, she's just another secretary in a Woolworth's dress.

The party around us is growing steadily noisier. On the stage, the orchestra breaks into a slow song. The bandleader steps up to the microphone.

"Many a tear has to fall
But it's all
In the game..."

Cassandra turns to me excitedly, her eyes sparkling. "Oh, I love this song! It reminds me of high school."

High school?, I wonder, faintly irritated. Was I ever that young? And yet, despite her ingenuous air, we are probably not so very far apart in age. I doubt I am more than five or six years older than she is.

"Come on, I'll dance with you," I say, rising. Dancing seems easier than talking.

She jumps up eagerly, and steps into my arms. I prepare for a little awkward fencing, but she molds herself against me easily and lays her head on my shoulder. We move together, slow-dancing to the music.

By the second verse she is singing along softly with the bandleader:

"Once in a while he won't call
But it's all
In the game.
Soon he'll be there at your side
With a sweet bouquet.
And he'll kiss your lips,
And caress your waiting fingertips,
And your heart...will fly...away..."

Her hair is pale, the color of cornsilk. She is even thinner than Teena, as thin as a child; I can feel the delicate bones of her ribcage under my right hand. She is too thin. Teena in my arms is all warmth and soft curves.

Cassandra smiles up at me. "You're a good dancer. Most men don't know how to lead any more."

I am an unremarkable dancer. If I'd still had any doubts about her willingness to flirt, it would be gone now. "You're easy to dance with," I say, unable to think of anything more original.

Soon the music fades. Another slow tune begins -- "Since I Fell for You" -- and we dance to that one, too. By the end of the song she has melted against me, every inch of her slim body pressed pliantly to mine. I wonder how much champagne she has had. I can recall her sipping at least two glasses, and I wasn't even paying attention.

The next song is faster, a swaggering cover of Dion's "The Wanderer," and so we wind our way back to our table. I check my watch. "Only about five minutes until the new year," I tell her.

I hold her chair out for her, and she settles into it, smoothing her skirt as she sits. "Is it really that late already?" she asks, looking up at me. "This night has flown by."

I take my seat beside her. "Time flies when you're having fun." Something about Cassandra reduces me to platitudes and dull cliches.

She smiles wistfully. "I won't be sorry to leave 1963 behind. It was such a terrible year. I thought it was sad when Mrs. Kennedy's little baby died this summer, but that was nothing to how I felt last month. I just sat by the television for two days, watching the news and crying. The funeral was the saddest thing I've ever seen in my life. It felt like the world was coming to an end."

Yes, I think in dull recognition, that's how it felt. I remember when I first learned that the Date was set, and realized then that the world really *was* coming to an end. I stumbled around for days, numb, sick, empty, as if I had a giant hole in the middle of me. I looked at things, familiar things, and they seemed changed. All the comfort and all the meaning in this world had disappeared. That's how Dallas felt, too.

"I feel so sorry for Mrs. Kennedy now, and for her little children," Cassandra continues. "He was the first president I ever voted for and he seemed so clever and so attractive. I used to love the way -- "

"Let's talk about something else."

She startles at the sharpness of my tone. "Of course. Of course, if you'd rather..."

"It's just that it's New Year's Eve," I say, recovering a little. "We should be celebrating, looking forward to 1964. Not dwelling on the past."

She smiles at me. "To 1964, then."

"Yes." A sense of vast relief comes over me, at the thought of leaving 1963 behind. I reach gratefully for the champagne bottle. "To 1964."

And the relief is still with me, buoying me, when midnight arrives two minutes later, and I kiss her.


I have to take her home. It is a date, after all, and the hour is late, the streets still full of inebriated party-goers. We take a cab and then I walk her inside the squat brick building and to her door. Her apartment is a walk-up, just one of many identical doors opening off an austere, narrow corridor.

When I kiss her good night, she clings to me. "You don't have to go," she whispers into my collar. "I have a roommate but she's gone to visit family for the holidays."

"Perhaps I'd better go, just the same."

Her arms tighten around neck. She pulls me closer, into another kiss. "Don't go," she says softly when I break the contact. The request is forlorn and a little breathless.

And so I follow her into her apartment -- it is neat and low-ceilinged and decorated with cheap, girlish touches -- and let her lead me into her bedroom. Too much champagne, I think even as I close the door behind us; I shouldn't be here. Then she reaches behind her back and unzips her dress, and the gesture reminds me fleetingly of Teena. Perhaps it will not be so very difficult to forget my misgivings after all.

It feels new, taking her in my arms; new and strange. It *is* strange. But then, there is really no reason I shouldn't. I don't owe Teena anything. She is Bill's wife. I never promised her my fidelity, as she has never given me hers. I can sleep with Cassandra if I like.

And yet it feels wrong, wrong and a little tawdry, as I peel the straps of her dress from her shoulders. The dress falls to the floor with a swish and she steps out of it. I lift my hand, and run one knuckle along the delicate line of her jaw. She catches my hand in hers and presses a kiss into my palm.

"You don't have to do this, you know," I say.

"I'm not a little girl." Her eyes meet mine, and I see the light of eagerness in them.

I lower my head and kiss her. Her mouth, warm and tasting of champagne, opens beneath my own. I feel her hands slide under my sportcoat, exploring my back and shoulders. "Mmmm," she sighs into my mouth. I am surprised and more than a little relieved when I feel the first stirring of arousal.

I shrug out of my jacket and unbutton my shirt. She goes to the sole light burning in the room, a lamp standing beside the bed, and switches it off. Only dim moonlight illuminates her pale body as she busies herself with the rest of her own clothing -- shoes, stocking, bra, panties. She folds back the sheets and slips into the bed.

I finish undressing, and join her there. She is lying on her side. I set a hand on her back and draw her against me. She is so thin. Too thin, I think for the second time; I don't like the way I can count her ribs in the dark.

But thin or not, I can feel the tips of her breasts against my chest. I move my hand to caress them, using my thumb to stroke one hardening nipple. "Oh," she says. "Oh, that feels good."

I am fully erect at last. Thank God, I think. I was afraid that this might turn out to be impossible. But her hands are moving over me, sliding down my back, and her mouth is hungry under mine, and all cats are gray in the dark.

I slip a hand between her thighs, parting damp flesh, circling, stroking lightly. She is wet and slick and my fingers slip easily inside her. She tilts her pelvis further into my hand, making a soft moaning sound.

She is more than ready by the time I turn her onto her back and move atop her. She is more than ready, and I am impatient to get this over with. I raise myself up on my elbows and enter her. She bites her lip, and makes an almost imperceptible whimper. I push in an inch at a time.

She feels so thin and so...different. I start gradually, giving her a chance to adjust to our fit, withdrawing slowly and then pushing slowly back. She seems so quiet, so passive. I am used to more outspoken ardor. It is not the same without dreamy, heavy-lidded eyes and husky whispers.

I try to concentrate on the positives, on her perfume and her breasts and the silkiness of her hair, as my pace builds. She gazes up at me trustingly. I find myself wishing that there were less trust in her eyes, and more challenge. She told me she was not a child but that's what it feels like, like I am having sex with a twelve-year-old.

Her arms are around my waist. I reach back and, lacing my fingers with hers, stretch her hands up above her head. I stroke into her, forcefully, with a firm, steady rhythm. "Mmmm," she says; but that is all she says.

Her orgasm is something of a surprise, when it breaks around me; a surprise and a circumstance for which I am infinitely thankful. Her fingers tighten on mine and she makes a small stifled cry as her muscles clench in spasms. I wait for her shudders to subside and then I finish as quickly as I can.

When I pull out and move to her side, I am already feeling the beginnings of a hangover from the champagne that I had tonight, already wondering how I can make a tactful exit. It is certainly, I think, a strange way to begin 1964. Only one week ago I was in Chilmark with Teena.

Cassandra sighs and nestles her cheek against my shoulder. "I knew it would be good."

I want to laugh at the ludicrousness of her remark. What a sad commentary on her life, that a perfunctory and half-hearted New Year's fuck is the culmination of her romantic dreams. I feel guilty for wanting to laugh, and guiltier still for lying here beside her, receiving her artless confidence with not an ounce of matching sentiment.

After a time her breathing slows and her head becomes dead weight on my shoulder. If I wait a little longer, I think, she will be deeply asleep enough that I can gather up my clothes and go. I can let myself out and be home in twenty minutes. I will call her tomorrow, I promise myself, although I know I am not really going to.

I wonder what Teena is doing five hundred miles away in wintry Chilmark. Perhaps she is still awake, still celebrating the arrival of the new year. I wonder if I will tell her about Cassandra, or if I will add this night to the list of secrets that we keep from one another.

My life might have been so different if I'd met her before Bill did. Or maybe it wouldn't; maybe without Bill to lend me countenance she wouldn't have given me the time of day, maybe she would have looked at me and seen nothing but a poor hungry kid with eyes that followed her too much. I do not have Bill's advantages to flaunt, after all -- his money or his education or his damned New England pedigree. And, Bill aside, I know I was not her first choice. Even so I can't help wondering: how does she feel about our arrangement now? Does she ever think of me at all?

I certainly think of her. Sometimes, in the empty hours before the sunrise, she is all I think about. I try to write but all I can see in my mind is her smile, her supple shape, the graceful curve of her neck and the fall of her dark hair. I sit at my typewriter and I long for Teena: Teena with her dress blowing in the ocean breeze, Teena laughing, Teena soft and starry-eyed, Teena gasping passionately beneath me --

Cassandra stirs, snuggling her blonde head into my arm. "You still awake?" she murmurs.

I turn my head slowly, and give her a small, reassuring smile. "Go back to sleep," I whisper. "I was only thinking about you."