A serenade of the past plays in my mind,
Not for the world to hear.
Oxford, England, 1878: : In the dreamy depths of sleep Carina entered a cozy, paneled dormitory at Magdalen College. Overlooking the Cher, the 1870s sitting room had a jovial, masculine atmosphere. On the table was a bowl filled with gin and whisky punch, and next to it were churchwarden pipes with expensive tobacco. The remainder of a meal consisting of wild duck, mutton cutlets, red mullet, butter and pulled bread was neglected next to a bottle of sherry. In the background she could hear a piano.
It was a Sunday evening party.
Carina stood in an inconspicuous corner, eavesdropping. Beside her was a pile of books, stacked in no particular order. She spotted several titles in Greek and Latin. On the top laid a notebook. She flipped it open to the center, skimming a man's words written neatly in brown metallic ink. He wrote on both sides of the page. Half the thick book was empty. She noticed several pages had been ripped out, then saw a drizzle of white candle or sealing wax on a blank sheet where the torn stubs were visible.
Carina closed the book of lecture notes and walked among the mingling guests. They paid little attention. Many were in the process of leaving.
It was midnight. A few remained as a familiar man's earnest voice spoke in a young, heavy Irish brogue on the opposite side of the room. She listened as he recited several lines from "Ravenna."
Yet here the gentle stillness of the night
Brings back the swelling tide of memory,
And wakes again my passionate love for thee...
As Carina approached she observed him while he remained unaware, engrossed in conversation with friends who surrounded him. His smile was untainted by the cruel passage of time. His almond-shaped liquid eyes sparkled with spontaneous humor and warmth. His laugh came freely, uninhibited and contagious.
Everyone laughed with him.
She wanted to kiss him. His lips were full and sensual, his eyes heavy with fatigue. His large, muscular body was strong enough to protect, soft enough to hold in a gentle embrace. His skin was barely touched by the sun.
Carina extended her hand as he rose. He took it in his.
"Have we met?" he asked.
She smiled and averted her gaze. "No."
"Are you looking for someone?"
Forcing herself to make eye contact, she replied, "You."
Silent, he waited for her to continue, then looked away in awkward amusement when she didn't respond. He cleared his throat with purpose, glancing from her to the punch bowl in an unspoken reprimand. "May I ask why?"
"I can't answer that here. Perhaps we could..."
He nodded. "In a few minutes we can speak in private."
Carina slipped her hand out of his grasp and stepped back. His expression conveyed his concern tainted by underlying cynicism. He thought she was drunk. Women in the nineteenth century didn't wander into a man's dormitory at night seeking companionship unless they were looking for physical contact.
Or something was wrong.As the room emptied Oscar watched her when he believed she was unaware of his scrutiny. More than curious, he seemed fascinated by her assertive entrance, followed by her sudden retreat into the far corner. After assuring him that she wasn't intoxicated, she needed to tell him her deepest secret. Then she must leave.
Later, when they were alone, Oscar motioned for her to join him on a small divan. She walked over with hesitation, foraging for courage inside. It wasn't time to behave like a coward. "I'm sorry I interrupted you," she said as she sat down.
He regarded her with interest. "You seem to know who I am. Perhaps you should introduce yourself."
"I'm from... another place."
"What do you need?"
As he stared with peculiar wariness, she remarked, "I haven't been drinking."
Oscar smiled, his eyes sparkling. "Go on."
"I love you."
Startled, he lowered his gaze and said nothing for a minute. "Who are you?"
Intrigued, he reached over and pulled her on his lap. He loosened his light olive green scarf and unbuttoned his shirt, exposing his chest. His moves were slow, each overture planned with care. "Is this what you want?"
Carina detected faint sarcasm. "This won't gain your respect."
"Were you looking for respect?"
"I was looking for you."
"You must have a reason."
"You won't understand my reason," she whispered.
As she leaned against his chest she felt his heartbeat. His sweet breath along her cheek drugged her into stillness. She looked into his light blue eyes searching for a spark of attraction, fearing that if she moved she would wake up and her world would end. She wanted him to reciprocate her affection.
The soft pressure of his embrace restrained her while using no restraint. Carina felt as though she obeyed a hypnotic suggestion. Close enough to see every emotion that flickered in his gaze, she savored their intimacy in silence, as she knew he wanted. He watched her response to the gentle, sensual caress of his hand along her arm. Her breathing deepened in excitement.
"You might misunderstand."
"I never misunderstand."
Oscar cupped the back of her neck and kissed her. His warm lips brushed hers for a mere second, but it could have been eternity. She trembled.
He noticed her reaction to their brief contact. "Shall we continue?"
"Only if you understand."
"Your reason is clear."
Carina swallowed, ignoring the ache in her throat. She was nervous. "My reason is incomprehensible."
He raised his eyebrows. "Incomprehensible?"
"It wasn't your body that brought me here. It was your soul."
On a nearby table she noticed a vase of white lilies. In the water one wild red rose had begun to open. "How do you know me?" he asked.
"I found your words."
He smiled and pressed his cheek against hers. "Which ones?"
"All of them... even those you haven't written yet."
"Tell me... what will I write?"
"Words of love and passion."
Oscar laughed. "You're serious."
Carina traced the outline of his mouth with her finger. No longer amused, he looked into her eyes as though he were reading her mind. She averted her gaze in shyness and focused on his parted lips. Her only desire was to kiss him until her dream shoved her back through the door to waking reality. Reality she didn't want.
She lowered her hand to his shoulder and grasped him tighter as she initiated their next intimacy, covering his open mouth with hers. Moaning softly, she sought deeper contact, entwining her tongue with his, until he pulled away in surprise and remarked, "Forgive me. Teasing women don't spill salty tears on my lips."
Embarrassed, she wiped her eyes and hid her face against his bare chest. "I don't want to say good-bye."
"I haven't asked you to leave."
"You won't need to ask."
Upset, he regarded her in alarm, then she slipped out of his arms as the scenario faded into semi-conscious awareness. His last words would haunt her forever.
"Never say good-bye."
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