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Cassandra Morton closed the door to her trailer with a snap. Storm clouds lay low and threatening on her normally attractive and sunny face and the angry twist of her wrist as she sent her bag sailing into the couch was equal proof that she was not happy. While no expletives had as yet crossed her lips, they had formed, four-lettered and violent, in her mind with dizzying rapidity.

Nice girls, of course, do not swear. Even when the only things around to hear them are the seven-year-old ears of a cat.

She had left the radio playing softly for the pleasure of her cat, who seemed to enjoy the strains of the classical music to which she routinely listened. Now, the strings and timpani began their subtle magic once more, smoothing the ruffled feathers, lightening the load of care and clearing her anger into the nearest trash bin. Avvie, her mixed-breed short-hair sidled up and twined around her ankles while he mewed to remind her that she needed to refill his food dish and open his can of tuna.

And the soft music, the soft colors and the soft fur of the cat did what they were supposed to do…within minutes, Cassandra was sitting with Avvie on her lap, her anger draining away and leaving a great weariness. She had wondered, long and often, why the heart, which was essentially soft tissue, seemed like it could break. And she wondered why the sensation seemed to flow over her more often these days than when she had been younger.

At thirty-four, she was scarcely old. And she had had enough men over the years who had spoken of her looks with admiration to know that she was attractive to the masculine half of the species. But she was still single, still alone, her only live-in companion her cat and her only destinations most days her workplace, the grocery store and the general round of gas stations, doctors, dentists and pharmacies common to any healthy female in the twenty-first century.

But she knew what had hurt her today, what had made her angry. And it was nothing she could control or help.

Cassandra worked in the software development division of a decent-sized insurance corporation, designing interfaces and applications for the agents, the underwriters, and the rest of the myriad divisions to use in the sale, administration and disbursement of insurance. Three weeks before, David, one of her co-workers, also in his mid-to-late thirties, had abruptly had to take time off for a reason no one disagreed with: his wife had suddenly passed away. Cassandra could remember the woman only dimly; she had met Julia (David’s wife) at a company Christmas party the previous year, and she had known for some time that Julia was ill with some sort of chronic and debilitating disease that had no cure. However, there had been every indication that Julia would survive to see at least her eldest child graduate from high school.

David’s eldest child, his only daughter, was just now entering her sixth-grade year. And now faced the years of her high-school career without the support and advice of a much-loved mother.

It’s not fair, Cassandra had screamed at the mirror seconds after she had heard the news and had had to bolt for the bathroom in tears. David was a powerful and skilled programmer, a bit on the arrogant side, but no one begrudged him that. It is rarely arrogance to know that you are among the best that are currently on staff. And he was. But he was a genuinely nice guy, still deeply in love with his wife after some fifteen years of marriage, still concerned about his sons and their performance in school, in band and in a wide variety of academic championships. Why should this man, who was one of the nicest men she knew, be saddled casino şirketleri with this tragedy? Why should he see that kind of sorrow, when several men she could think of, wicked and immoral men, enjoyed the fruits of their evil?

After all, one of Cassandra’s few friends was scraping by on a secretary’s pay and trying to raise two kids of her own after her husband of eight years had thrown her over for his blond and nubile “personal assistant.” And, to Cassandra’s certain knowledge, not a penny in alimony or child support, either. Or that woman who showed up at Cassandra’s church last week, with her face bruised after her boyfriend had gotten drunk and had accused her of sleeping around. And without any real proof, the boyfriend looked to be getting away with it too; the police had told the woman regretfully that there was not enough evidence to arrest and prosecute the boyfriend.

Why? It was the age-old question of those who witnessed unfairness and it was as unanswerable now as when it had first been asked millenia ago.

Today had been David’s first day back on the job after the funeral and the arranging for after-school care for his three children. Cassandra had been struck by the change in the programmer; he had left as a tall, vibrant and massive coding powerhouse and had returned oddly shrunken, his hands shaking, his face drawn with pain and grief. To her tentative question, he had replied that at least Julia was no longer in pain.

“I would have liked to keep her,” he said softly, “but she is asleep and she doesn’t hurt. And I’ll see her again.”

It had been that quiet conviction that had broken Cassandra’s heart afresh. “He believes that,” she thought in awe. “Even in the midst of his pain, in the midst of his loss, he holds to the belief that death is not permanent.” It was a thought that she knew she could not match. Her attendance at her church was sporadic at best and she was never sure any longer that what she claimed to believe was what she actually was sure of. After all, she had seen a great deal of unfairness and calamity in her recent years, and she often wondered what exactly God was up to.

It didn’t help that Cassandra felt like she had lost as much as David. They had flirted gently for most of their shared careers, each aware that the teasing banter was as far as it could ever go. Cassandra enjoyed the challenge of wits, the incessant games of trivia and the crosswords shared over lunch. She had looked forward to her work, not only for the mental stimulation of the job, but because of the presence of her friend. Of late, she had even begun dressing in a more feminine and attractive manner, digging out long-used makeup and going to have her hair styled, just to see his admiration of her. And more than once she had come home to her softly welcoming home wondering just what she would have been like if he had been available and she had managed to snap him up.

But today’s work had been overshadowed by the pain that still sheeted off the programmer in the corner cubicle. She hadn’t even been able to suggest the daily crossword to him today; one look at the haunted eyes and death’s head fixation on the scrolling lines of code were enough to convince her to find a solitary seat in the cafeteria. Her lunch was dry and tasteless, and she spent more than ten minutes in the bathroom crying softly for the pain that her friend was undergoing. And for herself, for the loss of her friend and the warmth of his approval.

The drive to her home was when the anger had overpowered the pain. She had spent the entire drive seething with resentment, at her friend, at herself and most of all, at God, casino firmaları who had allowed all of this to happen. Who had sat on His hands and let a good woman die, sent a good man and his kids into the midst of their own earthly Hell, Who had done nothing to deserve the loyalty and trust shown by a man now lost in his world of pain.

Now the anger was gone, and all that was left was the pain and the fatigue of depression.

She must have sat in her chair, stroking her purring Avvie, for most of an hour until the sharpness of the pain was finally blunted. Then, she rose, opened the tuna for an ecstatic cat, and wandered into the master bathroom, dropping clothes as she went. She sent water sluicing into the tub, and threw in a heaping scoop or two of crystalline bath salts. The twin scents of rosewater and frankincense ascended with the steam and, with a shiver of pure delight, she immersed herself in the mineral-laden waters. The contrast between the heat of the water and the cooler air made her yip softly as her skin warmed to the water temperature and she nestled deep into the embrace of the bathtub.

The warmth of the water drained the last of the tension out of her and she began to take realistic stock of herself and her situation. David would return in time, this was certain. Arrogant, and depressive, he might be, but there was a strength of will about him that could drag him out of the deepest pits of despair. Additionally, there was the fact that she was his friend, which he needed now more than ever. He undoubtedly missed the banter, and the laughter, as much or perhaps more than she did.

The water slowly cooled as she drifted in its wrapping arms, thinking back across the years that she and David had worked together, enjoying the laughter, the really bad jokes and the coffee breaks and meetings where he had argued with the other designers, playing devil’s advocate where necessary, challenging long-held beliefs and pushing the envelope as far as he could. His expertise, database development, made him an indispensable part of virtually every team; his combined skills of middle-tier programming and web server-side building made him arguably the biggest of their powerhouse programmers. More applications flowed from teams with his presence than any other single developer.

She remembered how much she had produced in the first six months that she had worked with him. Transferring in to the corporation from an IT group of a major US bank, she was used to strong programmers, but never to anything like this. She had pushed herself to the absolute limit for weeks, working late, working weekends, before finally conceding that his output was impossible to match. Strangely, though, she had never felt any sort of animosity toward him for his abilities. Something, perhps the strange friendship that had grown up during those first six months, prevented her from ever being angry with him. Especially when it was obvious that he wasn’t making any special attempt to show her up…what he did was just how he always had done it.

The water sleeted off of her as she finally stood up and reached for the soft towel she had set out. The three-inch-thick pile of the bath mat protected her feet from the cold floor and she dried off with long smooth strokes. Green-eyed Avvie blinked at her from his perch on the counter just inside the door.

Something about her toweling-clad body caught her eye in the full-length mirror as she stepped across the room toward the walk-in closet of her bedroom. She slowed and stopped to look more closely at herself.

Vain Cassandra was not. In fact, once she had outgrown the obsession with mirrors güvenilir casino and appearance common to eighty percent of American teenaged females, she had become almost supremely indifferent to her looks. In many ways, she had actually adopted a more masculine look, with the single concession to femininity being her long hair…and even that was kept stripped back in a severe plait most of the time. Tonight, however, her hair waved in damp fervor down over her shoulders, falling nearly three feet down her back. Slowly she unwrapped her towel and bared her body.

Pale skin, so light as to be translucent, gleamed in the subdued lighting, crowned with darker skin at lips and aureolae and her cinnamon-flame hair. Her breasts rose taut and firm, not small, but not large and tipped with a deep coral. Her body flowed in slender lines with the swellings at shoulder, breast and hip defining her lissome shape. A birthmark in the shape of a pair of pursed lips glimmered just above her navel, dark pink against pale. And her sole consideration to adornment, a beautiful image of a rose and a crown of thorns on her left thigh.

She slid her hands over her body, sighing softly as her skin awoke to the caress. The coolness of the air after her bath roused the blood to her nipples, making them contract to hardness and begin to ache for attention and touch. She slipped her hands up to cover the mounds and felt her body awaken with hunger again.

She had never allowed a man to do more than touch her, and that seldom; at thirty-four she had had no lovers that had consummated the relationship in bed, and still retained her maidenhead. When she had been younger, it had seemed there would be plenty of time for that later; then was taken up with the studying, the reading, the schoolwork, until her blood cooled from the ardor of the teenage years, slipped from the hey-go-mad of the twenties, until it rested, smooth and deep, in the mist of the prime of her life. The problem, if there can be said to be a problem, was that she knew the hunger that comes when a woman wants a man to possess her in the most intimate of manners…and that man is unavailable for such possession.

Recently, in the last eight months of so, she had begun to feel not only that hunger, but a desire for fulfillment that stretched beyond the boundaries of “normal” passion. Wrapped in her sheets on her bed, or lying on the couch, or occasionally on the floor or in the bath or wherever she had happened to be, she had learned that pain and pleasure are but two beds of the same river. She had also learned that her biggest climaxes had come most often when she hurt herself, pinching a clitoris into near-agony, digging her fingers into the soft resilience of the breasts until they throbbed with pain, scratching belly and thighs until she left weals from nails and fury. It was during such play that her vagina had ached the most, begging for a man to tumble her roughly, force himself into her, take her without mercy or gentleness until she was screaming in ecstasy.

She pinched both nipples, hard, in experiment. Pain flashed into passion, leaving her breathless, and her thighs went damp with the flood of her body. Two more hard pinches and she dropped to her knees, her arousal sucking strength from her legs and rendering her sobbing with pleasure. Her left hand found its way unerringly to her swollen center, slid through fever-hot folds slicked with her need, delivered a pinch of the same quality to her begging bud.

She nearly screamed as the orgasm ripped through her, cascading down her thighs, pouring her silk-slick essence over her cupped palm and draining it into the carpet. She nearly collapsed with the intensity of the explosion, panting on her hands and knees as she sucked great gulps of oxygen into her lungs and rode the ebbing tide of climax.

The thought snuck into her head as she gasped…David, it whispered, is no longer unavailable.

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