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Voices (Chapters 1 to 4)

After many years, Sera finds her former high-school teacher at his bar.


Chapter One

Sera Dizon walked slowly home from work. It had been another late night closing up the store and she felt like she was dragging along every minute of her ten -hour day. The sidewalk traffic was slowly thinning but more energetic, boisterous people were constantly passing her. Many were out on the town for some entertainment and none of them noticed the ghost of a woman ambling by herself on the sidewalk.

It wasn’t right. She was just as young as most of them were. With a little makeup , a quick crimping of her long, black hair, and a skimpy dress she could slide right into “frolic” mode…but it was too much damn work.

Pulling out her cell phone from her handbag as she walked, she held down #5 for the speed-dial.

“Hey Sera,” the voice on the other end replied. It was Jimmy.

“Hi,” she replied wearily. She listened to the background noise over the phone, “Are you out somewhere?”

“Huh? Yeah, went out for dinner with some of the guys,” he replied. There was some laughter in the back. Jimmy joined in.

“Must be nice,” Sera sighed, “I just finished work.”

“Oh yeah? Just now, huh?” Jimmy sounded a bit distracted. Then he added, “Ah…sorry. You want to join us? We’ve finished dinner already. We’re just having drinks now. But you can—”

“No. No, that’s all right ,” she interrupted, “I…no. I’ll just go home.”

Jimmy was talking to someone at the restaurant. He came back to the phone, “What’s that? Oh, sure. Okay, whatever.”

Sensing he was about to hang up, Sera piped in, “Oh…uh, I spoke to the manager of that reception hall today, The Colonial Gardens? He said we can come in for a viewing this Saturday.”

Again, there was a lag in Jimmy’s response. “Ah, okay if you just go? You know what we’re looking for already. You’re better at this stuff anyway.”

Sera knew that was Jimmy’s line for: “I can’t be bothered.”

She stopped on the sidewalk and frowned. “Jimmy, I’ve already checked four halls, two on my own. This was the one your friend recommended…”

“Yeah, yeah! It’ll be great,” Jimmy answered. She couldn’t tell if he was talking to her or not. Then he said, “Why don’t you take Angela with you? Have fun! Love you bunches!”

He hung up. Sera glared at the little screen, the words “Call ended” glowing back abruptly at her. She clucked her tongue and sighed again.

Every time you sigh, you lose a little happiness,” her first grade teacher once told her. That was 20 years ago and she still remembered those words every time she sighed…which was a lot, lately. It was like a lifelong song-dump.

Sera held down #6 on her cell phone. The phone rang five times then she heard the message: This is Angela. Ooh! Ooh, baby! I’m coming! Uhh! I’m com- ing !! Haha! No, I’m not! So leave a message you silly *BEEP*!”

It was Tuesday night. Sera knew Angela would be home. She also knew what her roommate could have been up to when she didn’t answer her phone.

“It’s me. We had better not get another message from the downstairs neighbours about the noise. And tell Paul to make sure he doesn’t leave his freaking jockey shorts on the dining table again. Bye…I love you but you’re a slut…Bye.”Sera grinned, amused with herself, as she dropped her phone back into her bag. She caught herself before she sighed once more. With a shake of her head, she resumed her trek home.

Now she was really dragging her feet. Rather than perking her up, her call to her fiancé had drained whatever was left of her spirit. She also didn’t want to arrive home too soon now that she knew Angela was likely in the middle of a delightfully sinful evening.

The thought of hanging out in a coffee shop alone depressed her but she saw no other option. Lost in dreary thought, she jumped back a little when a trio of chattering, energetic women spilled out through a doorway a couple of feet in front of her. Sera cringed, shoulders up and keeping her head down, gazing at their legs, and trying to stifle the sharp pitched voices of the women. They were clad in nightclub dresses and heels, and were oblivious to her presence as they filled the evening air with their over-the-top laughter and gibberish.

Sera continued to stand still as the women made their way across the street, their voices taking forever to dissipate. She watched them disappear around the corner before she realized that her body was rigid from tension. God, she felt so tight all over. What was wrong with her?

Frowning, she looked at the doorway from which the women had emerged. A heavy, red steel door was fronted overhead by a small, red neon sign, “Voices”, a simple outline picture of a finger on a set of lips painted beside it.

A bar? Sera glanced around to the neighbouring storefronts. An Italian restaurant and a small, private art gallery bordered it closely. They didn’t leave much room for the bar. Sera gazed at the sign for a good minute. It’d been a while since she had stopped in at a bar for a drink.

Intimate. That’s the first thought that came to mind as Sera emerged from the short, dark hallway leading from the front door and into the small room at the back. Painted in charcoal grey with a few well-placed, dim track lights and frosted-wall lamps, it was as if the evening sky had been pulled into this little room. Vintage postcards, preserved and framed, were scattered along the walls. A tall crystal vase sat on a pedestal off to the right side of the room beside an unmarked door. A light from beneath the vase cast a shimmering white glow upward through the delicate, ornate glass lilacs arranged in it. The corridor she had followed into the bar continued past the booths towards the back, a small sign pointing to the restroom and rear exit posted on the wall.

The short, black-marble topped bar was immediately to her right as she entered, three empty stools lined up along its polished-brass railing. Along with those three seats, there wasn’t much elsewhere for patrons to sit. The room had two padded quarter-booths at the back and a row of three candlelit cocktail tables, two chairs for each. The place would be stretched to fit maybe even fifteen or sixteen people. Smooth, old-time jazz filtering in through hidden speakers rounded out the ambience.

More words came to mind: swanky, soothing…seductive.

Sera gazed blank-faced around the room. She felt conspicuous but she didn’t feel an urge to leave, either. There was only a small group in one of the booths—three women, two men. One of the men was actually standing alongside the rest of them, with little extra seat space available in the booth. Everyone was dressed in stylish attire.

Finally, the man who was standing turned and looked over towards Sera. He nodded to the others then walked over to her. As he approached her, his face shifting from the dim lights, she suddenly felt apprehensive about staying.

“Good evening” the man said, “Sorry for making you wait. Would you like to have a seat?”

Sera blinked as she looked up at the tall, elegant man, her mouth slightly ajar. “What?” she asked in an unexpected daze, the word drifting past her red lips.

The man held out his hand to the side, guiding her to the barstools. He walked past her and behind the bar.

“Uh…I’m sorry,” Sera stammered. She mustered a frowning smile and said, “I’m just a little…I don’t know…tired, I guess.”

He nodded with an attentive gaze of his smoky-grey eyes. Even through his rusty-blond beard, she could see the ease on his lips.

Sera played self-consciously with her hair as she shook her head, “I think I may be a bit under-dressed.”

She was in grey dress-slacks and sneakers. She was wearing very little makeup and her long hair, normally her most prided feature, was decidedly limp around her shoulders.

As he pulled out some glasses, the man glanced at her attire and said, “Are you wearing a shirt under your overcoat?”

Sera’s thin, dark brows pinched together as she said with a smirk, “Um, yeah. A black blouse?”

“Then you’re more than sufficiently dressed. Please have a seat,” he invited.

There was an easy, calmness in his voice that just pulled at her, silencing the usual scoffing remarks that escaped from her jaded head. It was a strangely familiar feeling.

Sera removed her coat, folded it and placed it on a stool along with her handbag. Then she took a seat, still trying to bring her hair to life with a few crimps of her fingers.

“So, what may I serve you?” he asked.

Sera looked over his shoulder to the rows of pretty glass bottles lining the shelves. She puffed her cheeks and blew out a long breath of air. Suddenly she realized her mind was blank. With an earnest grin, she remarked, “I don’t know. Do people still order things like scotch on the rocks?”

There was a hint of an amused smile on his lips. “Would you mind if I made something for you?”

Sera flashed an anxious, crooked grin as she shook her head quickly.

He set to work behind the bar.

The young woman glanced around the bar but quickly trained her eyes again on the suave man behind the counter. Under a buttoned, velvety, black vest he wore a smoky-grey dress shirt, parted at the collar just enough to show some wisps of dark-blond curls of hair on his chest. His black dress pants were tailored perfectly to his long legs. Actually, his whole outfit was cut with a certain precision, showing off a tall, lean, elegant figure of a man.

Sera narrowed her dark, brown eyes on his face, curling her lips inward. He was at least ten to twelve years older than she was but he didn’t show any wear from aging. He had a full head of dark rusty-blond hair teased to a casually soft wave. The full beard was also trimmed and groomed with obvious attention. Pointed nose and sharp jaw—every feature seemed to guide her sight to his grey eyes. Besides being magnetically attractive, there was something about their casual ease that had Sera leaning ever so slightly over the counter to peer more closely at them. A distant yet familiar thought stirred in her head.

“You…” Sera said, pausing, “…work here?”

The same subtly amused smile appeared on the man again. He didn’t look up from the glass as he prepared the drink.

Sera leaned back shaking her head at herself. “Sorry. Of course you do,” she grinned, “A little slow on the uptake.”

“Work and own,” he remarked, “Just a one man show.”

“Ah,” Sera smiled and nodded. She looked around the room, “It’s really nice…but too bad there aren’t more people.”

“Still early on in the evening. Besides, I prefer it this way,” he said as he laid out a cocktail napkin on the counter in front of her and set her drink down. “It allows me to get to know my customers better.”

He gazed gently towards her. Sera felt like a warm blanket had been wrapped around her but she also could sense some intent in the way that he looked at her.

“Please enjoy your drink,” he said.

Sera tilted her head slightly to the side as if trying to pull her eyes away from his. Finally, she blinked and looked down at the light-caramel coloured liquid swirling around some ice in the glass in front of her.

Taking up her glass, she paused, holding it at her lips as she looked one more time at the man. Then she took a sip and immediately her rich, brown eyes widened.

“Mmm,” she hummed with a pleased look on her face, “It’s scrumptious.”

The man nodded.

“Sorry, that's a pretty lame way to describe a drink like this, isn't it?” Sera could feel her cheeks blush. The words had just spilled out.

“Not at all.”

Sera took another sip. After a day of forcing her lips to smile, now she couldn’t stop them from curling into a most satisfied grin. It not only tasted good, it felt good. “It’s not what I expected at all. I thought you were going to make something…you know…fruity.”

He wiped down the counter as he spoke, “I felt that you needed a drink for a woman, not a young girl.”

The blush on Sera’s cheeks suddenly deepened.

“Welcome to Voices,” he said without a drop of pretension. He stepped around the counter and went back to the patrons in the booth.

The solitary young woman was left alone on her barstool speechless, staring at the shimmering ice as it shifted inside the glass.

* * * *

Sera hurried back home, her footsteps falling heavy on the quiet neighbourhood streets. Her blood was racing and it wasn’t only from the single drink she had at Voices.

She quickly made her way up the front steps of the house. It was an old Victorian style detached home sub-divided by floors into three apartments. She and her friend since high school, Angela, shared the upper level. They, along with the people living on the main floor, shared the foyer but there was a keyed separate door at the stairs to the upper apartment.

As she climbed the stairs to her apartment, she ran into a stocky man descending the stairwell, buttoning his shirt as he did so. He wore a broad smile on his swarthy, brick-jawed face. Neck-length black hair fell across his eyes but, as he swept it aside, Sera could see he was maybe a dozen slight hairs away from sporting a thick uni-brow.

He winked, “Hey there, Sera.” Then he slipped past her.

“Hi,” she replied, frowning as she watched him open the door.

At the top of the stairs, Angela appeared all aglow, holding onto the railing and lifting herself on her toes. She was in her short, short terry cloth robe. As she looked up at the sleek, bare legs of her roommate, Sera thanked the heavens that Angela had found the time to slip on her panties.

“See you later, Ali!” Angela called out with playful giggle.

The man turned and blew her a kiss, then departed.

The two women stood where he had left them. After a moment, Sera shook her head and asked, “Who the hell was that?”

“Ali…from the gym,” Angela replied as if she was answering what colour was the sky.

As her friend went into the department, Sera started climbing the stairs again. “Ali from the gym,” she mimicked, “Of course.”

Once in the apartment, Sera dropped her coat and bag on a chair, kicked off her shoes, and went to the kitchen. She grabbed a bottle of juice from the fridge and drank straight from the container.

Angela was in front of the television doing her Wii Fit yoga. Sera grimaced as she watched her friend stretch and balance on the little white board. Seeing her pink-panty covered, tight little bum constantly peek out from under her bathrobe, Sera remarked, “Can you at least change into some shorts or something?”

The shorter, sprite of a woman with fluffy, curly brunette hair, turned around and smiled, scrunching together the sprinkle of light freckles over her button nose. “I can do this in the nude, you know.”

Sera knew. It baffled her how Angela always seemed to have energy to spare after going at it like a rabbit in heat for a good chunk of the evening. She would have thought bunnies needed to recharge their batteries, too, every now and then.

“So I take it you had a fun evening?” Sera quipped.

“Uh-huh! Good fuckin‘ God!” Angela breathed out as she touched her head to her knees. She looked back between her legs and asked, “And what did you do all evening long?”

Sera shrugged as she walked towards her bedroom. “Nothing much. Went to a cocktail bar.”

“Oh yeah? Meet anybody interesting? Exchanged a couple of numbers?”

“Uh, excuse me!” Sera sniffed. She raised her hand and tapped her finger showing off her diamond ring. “Taken!”

Angela chuckled as she raised her leg in the air, “Well, it’s true that you have to remind me of that fact! Maybe you could also remind Jimmy-boy.”

Sera laughed derisively as she shut her door. “Bitch.” She immediately regretted the harsh rebuke. She couldn’t blame Angela.

She removed her blouse and slacks and sat on her bed rubbing her feet. Staring back at her in the mirror across the room was a pretty, young woman with long, straight raven-hair. A naturally, light-tan, creamy skinned Filipina, she had high cheek bones, wide-brown eyes, a slender, rounded nose, and long, glossy lips. Adjusting her bra, she pushed her full, round breasts up and together and sat upright, highlighting the curves in her back and slim waist that dove into nice, round hips. She should have been feeling sensuous and exotic. Yet, she couldn’t remember when was the last time she didn’t feel just tired and dowdy.

She brushed her hair slowly, her eyes drifting out the window into the evening darkness. That drink really was delicious. Then there was the man behind the drink…

Sera pursed her lips and rolled her eyes as she thought. She stood and went over to a small bookshelf in the corner of the room. Thumbing through her selection, she pulled out one large book. It had a blue, woven textured cover, embossed in silver with the words “Cormier High School 2003-04”. She and Angela were in Grade 11 that year.

Sera sat on the floor of her bedroom and began scanning through the faculty pages of the yearbook.

* * * *

After his last patron left Voices for the evening, it wasn’t long before the owner turned off the lights in the bar. Another advantage to having a smaller clientele was that he didn’t have to spend so much time cleaning up.

He left through the back hallway and exited. Locking up for the night, he immediately climbed the metal stairs to the left leading to his apartment above the bar. It was a one room loft, but spacious, spanning the areas over the bar which had been annexed by the neighbouring restaurant and gallery.

Turning on his stereo, he walked over to a wall in the apartment that was covered from floor-to-ceiling with tall bookcases stuffed with text materials. He searched carefully then selected a book. Sitting down in a black leather chair, he unbuttoned his vest and loosened his cuffs, settling into the soft seat. He leafed through the big blue “Cormier High School 2003-04” yearbook quickly finding the Grade 11 student photos.

Chapter Two

The rest of the week went by uneventfu lly . By the time Friday morning rolled around, Sera was just hoping to survive the day and enjoy her weekend. Friday was one of the only days in the week that her schedule meshed with Angela’s so that they had time to eat breakfast together at the table.

Angela chewed on a piece of toast and said, “A few friends from school and I are going to go out for dinner and some clubbing tonight. You want to join?”

Sera shook her head. “Nah,” she replied stirring her oatmeal, “I’m not up for that sort of thing anymore.”

“Do you have plans with Jimmy?”

Again, Sera shook her head. “He’s going to play basketball. He asked if I wanted to come and watch but I’m going to have ample opportunity to do that when I become Mrs. James Callahan.”

Angela shrugged.

“Oh yeah, that reminds me, Angie,” Sera said looking up from her bowl, “I have to go check out another hall tomorrow. Can you come with me?”

Angela smiled sheepishly and remarked, “I have to be honest with you, Sera. I’m planning on getting totally shit-faced tonight.”

Sera rolled her eyes. “And laid, presumably?”

“Am I that obvious?” Angela asked with faux innocence.

“For a girl with a box of condoms and lube in her handbag, yes.”

“Well, whatever. I don’t think I’ll be in much shape to decide what type of stemware setting you should have for your reception. Besides, why don’t you go with Jimmy?”

Sera paused, pouting her lower lip. “He’s busy,” she muttered, looking back down into her bowl.

Angela leaned back in her seat, rapping her fingers on the table.

“He’s always busy, Sera. What’s he thinking? All he has to do is show up in a tux and then screw you on your wedding night?”

Sera spooned a drop of oatmeal on her tongue. She rolled it around in her mouth then said, “He’s earning the money to pay for the wedding. I guess I shouldn’t complain about planning it.”

“The wedding is a partnership, just like marriage,” Angela scolded, “It’s not a negotiable duty.”

Sera sunk into her chair stirring her oatmeal. Sometimes Angela, for all of her flighty notions, had some pointed observations. She had no response for her and simply filled her mouth with oatmeal.

* * * *

Two cement-filled crates. That’s how heavy Sera’s feet felt as she locked the entrance to the store. As she collected the till, her coworkers were busy tidying up the shelves and racks of clothes. She was the first to arrive and would be the last to leave. Thank God she didn’t have to work on Saturday.

As she balanced the cash in the back workroom of the store, Sera rubbed the back of her neck and rolled her head. Her body was a bundle of knots and she felt as if she wanted to drill a few holes into her head to let the steam out.

“Sera? We’re finished up out here,” a female co-worker asked her from behind.

“Okay, Lise. You guys can take off then. Thanks.”

“Sure you don’t want to come to the movies with us?”

Sera turned her head towards her and smiled, “It’s okay. I just want to crash tonight.”

“All right. We’ll take care of things here tomorrow. Have a good weekend,” Lise said then left.

As soon as she heard the door close, Sera suddenly felt very alone. She hadn’t been going out much at all lately. Slowly, she had less and less contact with her friends other than Angela, and only went out in the evenings and weekends with Jimmy…when he was available and interested. It was as if they were married already or, at least, that’s what she figured it would be like when they got married.

During the day, she had left a voice message for Jimmy asking him again if he could please go with her to the viewing at the hall tomorrow. She checked her cell phone : 0 messages.

Locking up the cash in the safe, Sera then started to gather her belongings. Pausing, she closed her eyes and took several deep breaths, filling her lungs with air and trying to expel the tension in her body. She realized that she didn’t want to go home. There was a thought that came to mind that eased her anxiety a little and got her heart moving at a steady, healthier rhythm.

She checked herself in the mirror and pulled a brush out of her bag. After a spritz of hairspray, she brushed out her hair with long strokes, and put some spring back into her black, lengthy locks. Then she applied a fresh layer of gloss on her lips and some moisturizer around her eyes, cheeks, and neck. Within a couple of minutes, she looked much more refreshed, if not as fresh as a daisy then at least she didn’t look like someone who’d just come off a nine-hour shift on her feet.

Then she grabbed her bag and coat and headed out.

* * * *

Sera noticed that Voices was a little busier that night as she stepped into the bar. Of course, it was Friday night and there were more people out on the streets in general. Still, there was only a subtle murmur of conversation amongst the dozen or so patrons in the lounge. For the most part, people were listening to the gaslight guitar performance of the well-groomed owner sitting on a stool beside the crystal vase display.

She stood by the bar, holding her coat, as she watched his deft fingers move up and down and strum the strings. The music was lilting, gliding from one soft, intricate note to the next, and entrancing the entire lounge, Sera included. Yet, more than anyone else in the audience, it elicited an anxiousness from deep within her gut. She felt positively giddy watching and listening to him.

The owner continued to strum and pick at the strings effortlessly, watching his fingers with a relaxed gaze. When he looked up and saw Sera standing by the bar, he smiled and concluded his song. Light, yet very appreciative applause filled the room as he stood and walked to the bar.

“Hello again,” he said to Sera.

“Hi,” she said with a smile and curt nod, “That was lovely.” She had expected nothing less from him.

A couple who had been seated at the bar got up and left.

He offered her a stool. “I guess this is becoming your spot,” he said.

Sera grinned with cool satisfaction as she sat down. “Front row centre,” she replied, “That’s the way I like it.”

He looked at her then nodded approvingly. He cleared the bar counter of some glasses and cash and wiped it down. “So what may I serve you with tonight?”

“Um, how about the same thing you made for me the other night?” Sera said leaning against the bar rail. “I’d like to see what you’re putting into the drink. You know, kind of like a student watching the teacher.”

Again, the man paused as if he were caught slightly off guard. “All right,” he replied with a soft grin, “One Smith & Wesson for the…student.”

He placed a glass on the bar and dropped in a couple of ice cubes. As he poured in some vodka he said, “You seem to be a bit more relaxed this evening.”

“Friday nights are the perfect tonic for me.”

Next, he picked up a bottle of Kahlua and tipped it over the glass. “Just got off work?”

“Yeah,” she breathed out, “I work at an RW & Co. Ten minutes walk from here. I closed up tonight.”

“Nice clothes there.”

As he splashed some cream into the drink, Sera shrugged, “Probably a couple of steps down from where you must shop.” The man was dressed impeccably with another tailored vest over a pin-stripe, burgundy shirt.

“I thank you for the compliment,” he nodded. He topped off the glass with Coke. “There you are.”

Holding the drink, Sera watched the ice settle in the glass with a gentle “clink”. She looked up at him, her mouth slipping open as if to say something. She suddenly felt her heart get stuck in her throat. Finally, she simply raised the glass to her lips and took a sip. She licked her upper lip and said, “It’s perfect.”

He watched her take another sip then asked, “Will you be meeting your fiancé later tonight?”

Sera rolled her lips into her mouth as she held the liquid on her tongue then swallowed with a stiff gulp. She realized he had noticed the ring on her finger as she lifted her glass. “Oh. Ah, no. No,” she replied half-heartedly, “He’s busy tonight. He plays basketball with his friends on Fridays then they go out to a pub or some place.”

“No women’s night on the town for you, then?”

Sera chuckled softly. “No. I’m not up for that sort of thing anymore.”

“So,” he said, “Just one drink and then you’ll call it an evening?”

She smiled as she watched the fluid colours shifting between the ice cubes in her glass. She felt content, a blend of good feelings just like the liquids in the glass. “I think…” she answered, looking up into the attentive eyes of the man, “…I’ll stay a little while tonight. I kind of like it here.”

“It’ll be my pleasure to serve you, then.”

“Oh, but you don’t have to spend your entire evening doting on me”

“The other patrons will call me over when they need me. That’s the way it is here,” he said as he switched on the stereo. As the eclectic but sweet toots and squeaks of a saxophone seeped through the lounge, he turned back to Sera and added, “Everybody can just take their time to relax and get to know one another.”

Sera settled comfortably into her stool.

* * * *

A “little while” stretched long into the evening. Sera nursed her drinks, interspersing her sips with conversation with the bartender-owner of Voices. Throughout the evening he would attend to the other patrons, he even performed another couple of songs on his guitar, but he always made his way back to Sera.

The man was keeping his cards close to his chest, never revealing too much about himself. She didn’t know if it was deliberate or if she wasn’t asking the right questions. She couldn’t even bring herself to ask him his name. Then again, he never asked for hers, nor did she offer it. Sera smirked at herself. So exactly who was the one who was being evasive here?

She never checked her watch but the number of patrons in the lounge slowly began to dwindle until finally it was just Sera and the owner still chatting at the counter.

“So,” he said, “No travel plans for you? Anywhere in the world you want to go?”

Sera replied sheepishly, “No. I’m pretty much bound to here. Why? Do I look like a travelling type?”

He paused for a long thought, stroking his beard. Finally, he said, “Yes. You do.”

Sera looked up at him and noticed the intent gaze he was sending her.

“I think the world will just open up for you if you step out into it,” he added. There wasn’t any whimsy or aloofness in his voice.

His words, his voice, his gaze all struck a nerve within the young woman like an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. Her brown eyes flitted anxiously towards the man, away from him, suddenly unable to focus. Her lips fluttered open, “Wh-what…?”

The loud chime of a cell phone interrupted her thoughts. Sera blinked and looked down, shaking her head. She retrieved her cell phone from her handbag. Looking back at the man, she bowed her head quickly and apologetically, and stepped off the stool.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Sera?” the voice of Jimmy filled the receiver.

“Oh, hi…uh…hi, Jimmy,” she eked, fumbling for words.

“Are you at home?”

“Yes,” she immediately replied. Then she closed her eyes and sputtered, “No. I mean…no, I went out with…I’m out tonight.”

“Ah, okay,” Jimmy said, “Sorry about blowing off the viewing at the hall like that. I’ll come with you. Is it tomorrow morning?”

“Really?” Sera nodded, her eyes brightening. She spoke enthusiastically, “Yes. It’s at 11:00 a.m.”

“Okay great. I’ll pick you up at around 10:30.”

“That’s great, Jimmy, so great. Thanks. Thanks so much.”

“No probs. Good night. I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” Jimmy said then concluded, “Love you bunches.”

Only after he hung up did Sera realize how much she had stretched her lips to a rigid grin. She didn’t know why she was so effusively thankful to Jimmy. It was embarrassing. Slowly she turned around to face the bar anticipating a judgmental glare from the owner. Instead, she saw the man just putting away some glasses and brushing off the counter.

“Uh, that was him, my fiancé.” She suddenly didn’t feel like she could continue the conversation they were having before. Her eyes widened as she checked her watch. “Oh my God! What time is it?”

Sera glanced around the lounge as if she had only then realized that everyone else had left. She walked over to the bar and grabbed her things. “I’m…I’m sorry,” she said shaking her head, “You must want to close already.”

“It’s okay,” he replied calmly, “Like I said, everyone is on their own time.”

Sera eased back down slightly as he spoke. She took a deep breath and managed a grateful smile. “Can I take one of these?” she asked as she picked up the lounge’s business card from the counter.

He nodded then he led her to the front door. “Thank you for coming. See you again soon?”

“Sure. Of course,” Sera replied as she stepped out onto the street and looked back at him. She waved to him as he stood holding the door open. “Good night.”

He smiled and nodded pulling the door shut. Just before it closed, he said, “Good night, Sera.”

Sera stood on the sidewalk staring at the door. She heard a “click” and a few moments later, the neon Voices sign flickered off. She remained standing on the spot staring blankly at the door, the street lamp casting a hazy yellow glow over her head.

“Good night,” she said, softly, “Mr.Constantine.”

Chapter Three

Cormier High School, May 200 4 ; 2nd period Grade 11 Social Studies Class

Sera Dizon, sixteen , stood confidently at the podium at the front of the classroom. She looked relatively presentable for a high school student: yellow baby-T pulled down just enough so that there was no space between the bottom of the shirt and the top of her jean skirt. Her long black hair, streaked with blonde highlights, was swept back behind her neck and she even slipped on a pair of black wire-rimmed glasses which she had borrowed from a friend for that added “scholarly” look. She had removed an assortment of bangles from around her wrists as well.

She understood well the presentation aspects of a formal debate. In this case, she didn’t need it. Arguing for the “Pro” side of abortion rights, she was decisively ripping her opponent to shreds with her words.

It was obvious that she had out-researched, out-prepared, and out-classed the other student right from the beginning which was a surprise to everyone except her teacher. In fact, Mr.Constantine had to take up the cause of the “Con” argument from the back of the class just so Sera would be able to have a worthy forum to present her information and defence. Even then, she manoeuvred around his words with an admirable deftness.

“European countries have offered abortion for decades before North America did and it can’t be traced as a cause of any moral decay of their society,” she declared, “Forcing rape victims or critically ill women to carry a child to birth is immoral. Telling a woman what she can do with her body is socially unjust.”

Finally, her opponent, a gangly, nest-haired boy, managed to speak up, “Okay. So say when your mother was carrying you just after conception, she and your dad decided to abort you. Where would you be? Then what?”

Sera blinked at the obtusely metaphysical statement. She looked back at Mr.Constantine as he leaned on a desk at the back of the class. The teacher shrugged.

With a cool gaze, she turned back to her flustered opponent and said, “Well, I guess you’d be standing there arguing with yourself.”

Her twenty-seven classmates frowned as they wrapped their heads around the exchange.

Suddenly, Mr.Constantine laughed, clapping his hands together.

Sera beamed brightly.

Later on, Mr.Constantine talked to Sera in the classroom during her spare. “That was excellent, Sera. Well done,” he applauded as he leaned his long body back against his desk.

“I don’t even completely agree with pro-abortion rights. I‘m supposed to be Catholic!” she remarked, grinning, “But it felt good tearing apart Colin like that.”

“That’s the point and skill of debating,” the teacher said with a wink of his smoky-grey eye, “It’ll take you far, Sera. Looks like you‘d like to go places.”

Sera noticed him glancing at the travel stickers covering her binder—names of places she had read and dreamed about.

The student rolled her eyes and shrugged. “Doubt I’ll live more than a mile away from my parents’ house.”

“Shouldn’t think that way,” he said, rubbing his clean-shaven, sharp-jaw, “Not when you’re so young. Always keep moving. Always challenge yourself. Once you stop and settle for something, that’s it. Everything begins to stop.”

“Nah,” the girl said, scuffing her sandals on the floor, “My parents know I’ll probably just get a job, get married, and squeeze out some kids. It‘s fun now, but that‘s the way it is.”

Mr.Constantine shook his head. “You’re wrong, Sera. Once you step out into the world, it’ll just open for you. I swear. No one can hold you back.”

Sera gazed at him. The jaded cynicism in her youthful brown eyes faded away just by his words and presence. She couldn’t help but smile.

“So you’re coming out this Friday?” he said changing the subject, “Going to see what your teacher and the senior class have conjured up for this year’s school stage production?”

Sera giggled and smirked, “Yeah right. I wouldn’t be caught dead at any sort of geek-fest like that!”

“Ohh!” Mr.Constantine groaned as he leaned back and grabbed his chest as if he had been shot in the heart.

She continued to chuckle as she asked, “How did they blackmail you into directing that?”

“Maybe it’s because I know how to play the guitar and write my own songs,” the debonair teacher joked as he stood upright, “Or maybe it’s because I’m so stylish?”

He certainly had nice, tailored clothing, Sera thought. While it may have been a bit much for a high school teacher, it was such a refreshing contrast to the off-the-rack suits the other male teachers wore.

The tall man scratched his long nose with a finger and said with a coy grin, “It’s probably a hazing for the school’s new teacher.”

Sera nodded and laughed.

“So…come on out,” he nudged her on the shoulder, “I’d appreciate it and it’ll be fun.”

The teen eyed him carefully then finally relented. “Okay,” she said, “But just one thing…no, two things…”

“Shoot,” he replied, folding his arms.

“First, I get to have a seat in the back, in the dark. No one knows I’m there.”

“And?”

“And second, I get to be in the production when you direct it again next year.”

“Can you sing?”

“Please…I’m Filipina,” she scoffed in jest, “Angels take singing lessons from us .”

Mr.Constantine stared at her for a long moment, smiling gently. “Deal.”

The teacher and student continued to look at one another in the silence of the classroom. Both of them jumped a little when the door swung open abruptly.

“Sera!” A petite girl with kinky brunette hair shouted as she stuck her head into the classroom.

“God! Angie! What the fuck…?” Sera spat at her friend, forgetting whom she was with in the classroom. She looked up apologetically at the teacher, “Oh! Sorry, Mr.Constantine.”

He shook his head and smiled.

She turned back to her friend. “What is it?”

“I, uh, need to see your notes for Chem,” the smaller girl said as she stepped into the room. Sera could see that Angela was actually looking past her as she spoke. “Hi, Mr.Constantine.”

“Hello Angela,” the teacher acknowledged. An air of professionalism settled around him as he noted, “You do know about school regulations concerning classroom attire?”

Angela crossed her bare legs, hardly hidden by her miniskirt , and turned her hips playfully side-to-side.

“I just came from gym,” she said with a coy grin, “Didn’t get a chance to put on my stockings yet.”

“And I presume a sweater to cover up the halter top?” he added.

Angela giggled as she teasingly clutched her chest and bare tummy.

“Make sure you put both of them on before next period, all right ?”

The girl nodded quickly still unable to shake her leering grin. She wet her upper lip with a none too subtle drag of her tongue.

Sera offered a look of silent apology to Mr.Constantine. She rolled her eyes and sighed as she trod over to her friend. She grabbed Angela by the wrist and pulled her out of the classroom. “Let’s go to my locker,” she grumbled.

Mr.Constantine continued gazing at the open door, a stern brow over his focused eyes.

Chapter Four

Sera and Jimmy had gone to The Colonial Gardens reception hall mid-morning on Saturday for the viewing. Though she was grateful her fiancé had decided to come along, he still wasn’t much help, simply shrugging his shoulders most of the time and appearing to be disinterested except when they got to sample the food. It always disappointed her to see him this way. He was a handsome guy with close-cut, auburn hair, blue eyes, and sharp facial features highlighted by a dimpled chin. However, he didn’t wear distraction on his face very well and his normally athletic body would slouch as he shuffled along with his hands in his pockets. Yet, she realized this was the best that she could expect from him. He cared about her, she knew that. He just wasn’t interested in the details of the wedding. It was still just a little under ten months away. Maybe he’d show more enthusiasm for the ceremony when the day came closer.

After the viewing, they had some lunch. A few minutes after leaving the restaurant, as they drove along the highway, Jimmy raised a finger from the steering wheel and pointed ahead. “There’s a motel,” he said, “Want to stop?”

Sera had been gazing out the window to the side of the road. Her thoughts had drifted back to the previous night. She vaguely heard Jimmy’s voice. Cocking an eyebrow, she turned to him. “Hmm?”

“Motel,” he said, nodding ahead with his chin, “Should we stop?”

Sera looked up the road. “Sure,” she replied.

They pulled into the parking lot of the motel. Jimmy went into the office while Sera waited.

Every second left to herself, she thought about how, after all these years, she had stumbled across her teacher from high school. Not just any teacher, but Mr.Constantine. He had recognized her as well, even remembered her name. Everything unnerved her completely.

Jimmy came back with a room key. They drove to the other side of the parking lot, down the row to the last room and got out of the car.

Once inside the room, they stood at the foot of the bed, they quickly set to undressing one another, exchanging light pecks and kisses.

Jimmy still lived at home with his family as he saved up money to buy a house—a nice, big house—for the two of them after they were married. Even if his parents weren’t staunch Catholics, he doubted he could sneak in a quickie with Sera in his bedroom without them finding out about it.

Sera figured that her neighbours at her house already had to put up with the sexual antics of her roommate. For herself, there were just too many of Angela’s “ghosts of orgasms past” to compete with in that small apartment of theirs. It made her feel self-conscious.

Jimmy dropped his shirt to the floor and pulled down Sera’s skirt as she tugged her sweater over her head. His hands wrapped around the two smooth, firm cheeks of her bum as he turned her back to the bed and sat her down at the edge. He caressed her hair as he watched her undo his pants and slide them down to his shins. His boxer shorts quickly followed.

Sera lifted up his dark, pinkish length with one hand, gently cradling his twitching balls with the other. She tossed her hair back with a flick of her head then, after a lick of her tongue around his mushroom-tip, guided his shaft past her red lips and into her mouth. Her pink lips, her teeth, and her tongue slipped along his length.

Jimmy breathed out a long, steady stream of air from his lips, his tight, pale tummy flattening out. As Sera’s head slipped back and forth at his crotch, he reached down and pulled the cup of her bra under her breast. He cupped his hand around one of her soft, apple-sized breasts and massaged it gently. Sera stroked him with her gentle hands as she worked her saliva from her mouth along the length, until it was dripping off his ball sack. She listened to the purring groans of Jimmy from above, and looked up at him with her wide, doe eyes. Her skilled sucks and licks stretched Jimmy’s cock rigid before too long.

With a firm push on her shoulders, his glistening shaft dropped from her mouth as she lay back down on the bed. Sera pulled herself back, leaning up against the pillows and headboard. As Jimmy crawled onto the bed between her legs, he kicked off his pants and watched as Sera shimmied her panties past her curvy hips, down her thighs and calves and off past her ankles. He crept over her, leaning down to suck on one of her pert, mocha brown nipples. He stopped momentarily to lick his fingers. As he resumed indulging in her supple breasts with his mouth, he massaged his wet fingers against Sera’s clean-shaven slit, pushing apart her lips and coaxing soft groans from her.

Kneeling back, Jimmy worked his shaft with quick jerks of his palm until it was throbbing with heat and blood then he nuzzled it against Sera’s moistened slit. Thrusting forward with brief pauses, he pushed into her slowly, sinking past her dark lips and into her pink, warm opening.

Sera arched her back slightly and gasped. She felt the blood rush to her face, flushing her cheeks a light red. Jimmy withdrew almost completely before plunging back into her with a swift, firm stroke. He reached under her thighs and held on as he set his hips into a rapid piston motion, sinking into Sera over and over. Sera, gasping quickening breaths, moistened her lips and rolled her hips along with Jimmy’s.

They had done this a couple of dozen times before in various motels over their four-year relationship. They’d probably continue to do so until their wedding day. The first few times it was somewhat exciting having an illicit tryst in a motel room. Lately, while it still felt good in several ways, she actually wondered if it mattered if she was doing it with Jimmy or not.

It was a shock to think that way, but it was true. As the rugged, pale-skinned man rocked quickly into her, she looked up at his face, then past it, towards the white ceiling. After a few minutes, she didn’t see Jimmy, didn’t hear his increasingly strained groans. She didn’t even feel him as he pumped hard into her, jiggling her breasts in quick, oval rotations with his rapid thrusts. She heard a voice call her name, but it wasn’t the heated grunts of Jimmy she was listening to. It was a so much more calm, at ease, voice beckoning her.

Finally, Jimmy’s face and body strained tightly. He thrust his hips upward, raising Sera’s butt off the mattress and angling her pelvis towards the ceiling. With an intensely satisfying grunt, he exploded into her, filling her. After a couple more sharp bucks, he lay down across her body as he continued to twitch inside of her.

Sera reached around his back, stroking his fine, short hair as he breathed and gasped against her. Even with his hot, heavy body pressed against hers, even with her fingers running through his hair, Sera couldn’t feel him. Her mind had wandered from the room long before Jimmy had climaxed.

* * * *

Rivulets of perspiration trickled down from Sera’s forehead, around her cheeks, and dripped off her chin and neck. The heat built up within her and flushed her face red. Her clothes were as damp as her hair, long, black strands clinging together. Trying to keep her breath steady, she inhaled slowly through her nose and exhaled long streams of air through her lips. Her legs were aching from pedalling but she fought on, feeling the burn on the elliptical-cycle.

Every Sunday morning after early mass, she and Angela would hit the gym to blow off any excess energy or stress they had leftover from the week. Sera was in particular need of de-stressing while Angela, in Sera’s opinion, just needed to cull some of that rabbit-like energy of hers, period.

“You know,” Sera spoke between long-breaths, “Father Webber gave you a pretty harsh look today when we left church.”

Angela walked on the treadmill beside her, pumping her arms and taking long, confident strides. She looked ahead and chuckled, “Probably my confession that did it. He's such a cutie. I wonder if I managed to get a rise under his robes.”

“You’re terrible!” Sera grinned. Angela turned her head and winked at Sera.

“You seemed to have spent an awfully long time in the confessional as well,” she teased, “You and Jimmy have some pre-marital nookie yesterday?”

Sera slowed her pedalling as she cooled down. She shrugged and nodded.

“Good girl,” Angela said, “Long overdue as far as I was concerned.”

“Nice to know that you’re so concerned about my sex life.”

Angela shook her head. “Just concerned about you and Jimmy in general,” she replied, “Some x-rated action once in a while helps.”

“I was really surprised when he said he changed his mind about coming with me to view the hall,” Sera said, “I know it sounds stupid, but it really meant a lot to me.”

“That’s what I told him,” Angela exclaimed.

Sera suddenly stopped pedalling. She turned toward Angela and asked, “Told him what?”

Angela pushed some buttons on the treadmill display as she replied, “That you were upset that he wasn’t going with you to view the hall.”

“You told him that?” Sera said, frowning, “When?”

The treadmill came to a stop and Angela picked up her towel. “I don’t know. I called him Wednesday or Thursday? I told him to stop neglecting you.”

“Why would you say that to him?”

“Well, you were ticked, weren’t you? And he’s been an ass lately. He should be there when you need him,” Angela answered as she patted down her face and neck.

Sera closed her eyes and shook her head. “So he only came with me because you told him to?”

“Think of it as giving the boy a push down the right track,” Angela giggled as she patted Sera on her shoulder, “Remind him that you need your man sometimes.”

Sera leaned on the handles of the bike, staring at the floor ahead. So now she sounded like she was needy or clingy? Had she really become that way? She still couldn’t wash the perturbing thoughts from her head as she stood in the showers. She kept her head down as the water rushed its way over her body and onto the floor, swirling in circles into the drain.

She frowned as she tried to put her thoughts in order. Now that little session with Jimmy in the motel room was even more conflicting. What was it? Did he think it was his reward, a quickie, for being the good boyfriend and joining her for the viewing which he never wanted to go to in the first place? Or worse, he felt that his poor, neglected fiancée “needed it?”

Holding a soapy washcloth against her chest, Sera slowly raised her face up towards the shower-head. It sprayed water across her nose and into her open mouth. She felt like she was drowning.

To be continued...

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