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The LaPorte Caves – Revised – Ch 09d – The Recital

Written by circes_cup :: [Saturday, 08 February 2020 15:34] Last updated by :: [Monday, 10 February 2020 17:38]

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CHAPTER 09D – THE RECITAL


SYNOPSIS UP TO THIS POINT
Julia and Howard took a wrong turn in a Kentucky cave and tumbled out into a world of amazon women.  Julia chose to join their ranks, drinking the elixir Nourishment and receiving extraordinary strength and intelligence in the process.  She had used her intelligence to discover the way back to Earth, and her strength to test out the route. And she had even found the inner strength to ignore the needs of her now enhanced libido, for the sake of fidelity to Howard.  But what she didn’t have the strength to do was give up her improved body just yet. With her new friend Mindy, she tested the route home and returned with a gift proving that Earth was indeed on the other side. Perhaps these would be enough to put Howard at ease, and allow the couple to extend their sojourn in the Weald just a bit more.

DISCLAIMER
This story contains adult sexual content.  If you are not of age to read this stuff, don't.  No resemblance between these characters and real people on Earth is implied or intended.


“This?” Howard exclaimed, gesticulating at the bike. “You want me to stay HERE, so I can PLAY with THIS?”

Howard’s reaction was a far cry from the one she had imagined.

When the ladies had returned to the beach house from Earth, four-hundred-pound motorcycles still on their backs, the men were nowhere to be found. They had gone snorkeling, apparently, and would not be back for hours. That had given Julia plenty of time to shower up, wash the grime of the caves away, and imagine how he might react to her gift.

Julia’s mind now drifted back to the sumptuousness of that hot shower. As water hot enough to scald a man coursed over her, Julia had imagined Howard being relieved to know that the route back to Earth was certain – the light at the bottom of the Blue Chimney promising a return to the surface. She had imagined Howard being giddy at the gift of a state-of-the-art road bike – something that would not only give him an awesome ride, but also provide him freedom to explore this foreign land for the remainder of their time there, without a woman’s assistance.

As the water coursed in rivulets over her naked curves, she had imagined more. She had pictured him waxing magnanimous – volunteering to stay even longer than she asked, get his damn Claim tattoo, thanking her profusely for having established the route home. And perhaps most fantastical of all, as her fingers navigated her thick thighs to find her needful womanhood, she had imagined, breathlessly, that Howard had somehow dispensed with his dislike for her body, that her generous actions had somehow unearthed new desires he had not known he possessed.

At that thought , Julia’s fingers had moved faster, stroking herself with a touch so delicate – only several hundred pounds of force – that her insides filled with pleasure and even more need.

As her clitoris engorged itself, so too did her imagination. She fantasized about Howard going hard at the mere sight of her – that the fingering session in the shower would be followed by the real thing, Howard’s own thing, thrusting deep inside.

Her fingers adopted a furious pace, a blur incomprehensible to male eyes. She stroked her engorged sex with wanton fury, transforming the unfortunate sheen of water lining her sex instantly into superheated steam.

And still it wasn’t enough. Her fingers went into overdrive – a speed that no man could imagine, much less observe. Julia ground into herself with thousands of pounds of insufficient force, her needs now staggering, her body propped against the wall of the shower as she panted in breathless heaves. She needed more, so much more. More of his touch, more of what only his organs could produce, jetting inside of her.

The shower had ended with breathless disappointment, and this conversation was no different. She wanted his passion inside of her. But instead of his passion, she was getting, well, this.

“I want to go home,” he added, spittle dripping from his lip like a scared child.

Why was he so adamant about leaving? What was he running away from?

“I’ve said that you will. I would have thought that bringing back an Earth object of this size would have helped you see how clear the path home truly is.”

Julia offered the motorcycle, to Howard by its chain, one handed. “Just take it honey. Take it as a sign that my intentions are true, that we will get home. Take it and have some fun here, so that I can have some fun too. I have not lost sight of your needs.”

“But you have, Julia.” Howard took a step back. “You’re trying to hand me a four hundred pound bike. You’ve long since lost sight of what it’s like to be a man in this world. We need to get home.”

She studied the four-hundred-pound object at the end of her extended arm. Even the weight of a hundred such bikes wouldn’t have exceeded her strength. But she had spent so much time with Mindy, seeing the world through Mindy’s eyes, that she could barely imagine the motorcycle as heavy anymore. Now, she was reminded of the dull reality. If the thing ever ended up in a ditch, he would need her help to get it out – and it was just four hundred pounds! Such a fucking pain, Julia thought. And he made it worse by having such a fragile ego.

“Sorry.” Her tone was obligatory. “I forgot who I was dealing with.” She lowered the cycle to the ground, and pinched the thick links of the chain between thumb and forefinger to sever them. “There. You’ve got no excuse not to at least try it.”

“Speaking of gifts…” Mindy appeared from inside the house. She offered a small box to Julia. “Here’s a little something from my mom.”

Julia opened the tiny box and extracted a small sparkly garment. She held it up for Howard to see: it was all straps and dangly bits of cloth. “Isn’t it lovely?”

“That’s a dress?” He said skeptically.

“I know, right?” Julia said, giddy. “It will be perfect for the recital.”

“Recital?” He screwed up his features. “You want to go to the recital?”

Damn it, Julia thought. He’s not going to object to this, too, is he? Julia silently lamented the fact that her enhanced intelligence, which allowed her to understand so much, did not seem capable of deciphering her boyfriend.

“It’s ok,” Mindy said. “I won’t be offended if he skips out. His brain can’t appreciate much of the music anyway.”

“Well I, for one, wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Julia assured her. “EITHER world.”

“Awww, that’s so cute. I’m flattered.” Mindy giggled as she gave Julia a squeeze, a squeeze that would have easily crushed Howard, then she gave her a peck on the cheek.

——————

Once they were alone in the guest room, the questions started. “When, Julia? When are we going back?”

“I don’t know. Why do we have to be in such a hurry, honey?”

Julia picked up the vanity desk by its handle and carried it toward the light of the window. The room darkened momentarily as the four-hunded-pound mass choked off the daylight. She felt Howard’s mood doing the same.

“We don’t understand the forces that got us here. We don’t understand how that fruit is affecting your body. But we have an opportunity to go home and we NEED to take it. Not next week. Tomorrow. Before we get trapped here.”

She paused, the desk suspended in mid air. “Trapped? The route back home is wide open for us to take any time. And in the meantime, you’ve got everything a man could ask for. Safety. A beach. A girlfriend who desperately wants to fuck your brains out. You could enjoy yourself immensely if you put your mind to it.”

“This is not a vacation, Julia. It’s a crisis. We slipped between dimensions or something. We don’t belong here. It’s not right.”

“It feels right to me.” Julia lowered the vanity into place with a THUNK and sat down. She busied herself extracting the evening’s jewelry and hair pins from the drawers. “This body lets me do things I never did before. I want to explore it a bit. And like every adventure we’ve ever had since the first day we met, I want to explore it together. How hard is that – supporting me a little bit while I have the experience of a lifetime? All I am asking you to do is spend a few weeks bumming around the beach.”

“But after what you did, it’s a bit hard to…”

“…to trust me,” Julia admitted. She set the hairpins aside and smoothed the emotion out of herself, performing long strokes with her palms over her rock-hard thighs. “I broke a promise to you. I admit it. But we’re a couple, Howard. I’ll make mistakes. You’ll make mistakes. We can be disappointed in each other, but at some point we need to let our disappointment go. In hindsight, Nourishing was necessary for our survival in this world, for both of us. We’ll get home, believe me.”

“I’m not sure I do.” Howard crossed his arms defensively.

Her patience was slipping. Even Hawk had found the capacity to change when circumstances demanded it.

“You should be grateful for the fact that we are even having this conversation. You just called into question my integrity. I didn't get upset, but most women here would have no tolerance for that.”

“Is that a threat?”

She was getting nowhere with him, she realized. It would be better to focus on getting ready for the recital.

Julia hoisted her shirt over her head. Underneath, her torso was covered only by a thin bandeau sports top.

“Julia, I…”

Howard’s anxiety seemed to increase, in some barely perceptible way, at the sight of her herculean physique. He seemed incapable of finishing his sentence. Interesting, she thought.

I love Howard, Julia told herself, but I don’t love all the conflict we’ve experienced recently. Our relationship had always been smooth back on Earth, when Howard had been in charge. Sure he was kind, sure he was generous, but underneath all that, he had also been in charge. Maybe he had even enjoyed it. And now, Nourishment has robbed us of that harmony – leaving the “alpha” personality on one side of the relationship, but “alpha” everything else on the other.

At least, that was always how Julia had thought off it. But what if she were wrong? What if personalities were not permanent and immutable, but were an outgrowth of the bodies they inhabited? What if the disharmony in their relationship was due to the fact, with all of her power, she had refused to play the role of the alpha partner.

The possibility was too interesting to ignore. She had to find out!

“I can’t believe how much my muscles ache after that long trip,” she complained. “To be so low on Nourishment, and to have that chain digging into my shoulder the whole time. Yuck!” She raised her arms above her head and stretched, her lats erupting into wings of muscle each as wide as Howard’s two palms placed side-by-side. “You were saying something – about how I’m not taking good enough care of you?”

Howard remained silent, and the anxiety he exuded seemed only to increase.

“Arrggh!” She grunted, her engorged back muscles swelling even wider. “There we go.”

“Sorry Julia. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for what you’ve done so far… But…”

Huh, she thought. Another sentence he can’t finish. He really is daunted. “Go, on honey,” Julia invited, turning toward him with a beatific smile “Say what’s on your mind.”

“We're trapped in a world where every tenth person…”

There it was again, that distrustful word, ‘trapped’. She folded her hands on the lip of the vanity and inhaled deeply, allowing her annoyance to flow through her body. She found herself tensing her chest, the thick slabs of her pectoral muscles swelling even thicker than Howard’s hand was wide.

“… visiting,” he clarified.

He he, she thought. Was correcting him really as simple as breathing? She turned back toward the dressing table. “Go on.”

“We’re visiting a world where every tenth person can destroy me. I think some haste is reasonable.”

“Howard, my love.” She opened a small wooden box and extracted a decorative armlet. “I am greater protection than that silly gun in your backpack would provide on Earth. I have some guns of my own, so to speak.”

She slid the armlet up her forearm, and then over her thicker upper arm. Howard’s gaze, too, slid up her immense muscles. To see whether the armlet could expand and maintain its fit, she straightened her arm and tensed the tricep experimentally, watching it expand to a volume bigger than a bread loaf.

“See?” She teased.

The faintest gasp escaped his lips.

“It’s… very… impressive,” he finally managed. “But you can’t be with me all the time. Imagine what happens if I spill a drink on a woman in a restaurant. I would wind up with a broken arm.”

“Spill that drink after you have a Claim on your neck and the most you will get is a napkin.”

“No Claims,” Howard protested. “I am not a possession.”

So damn stubborn, he is.

“I know you’re not a possession,” Julia continued. “What I don’t know is why you let pride override practicality. One branding, or even a tattoo, and you could stay here for countless years and without having to look over your shoulder.”

Years – that word probably didn’t help matters, if the frightened expression on Howard’s face was any indication. “What are you suggesting?” he asked.

“Don’t be so dramatic.” If only he had seen what she had done to those hundred bikers at the bar, he would know what her protection really means! It was time for another little demonstration. “I need your help with my armlet.”

“What does it do?”

“Everything. It’s so much more efficient than a purse.” Julia pointed at the various beads and attachments. “Currency beads, cell communicator, a brand to mark Claims and sign documents, a few oxygen beads. Some women even used their armlet to carry a bit of candy for their men.”

“Like the men are children.”

“That’s a pretty negative way of seeing it, honey.” Julia flexed her bicep a little, swelling the muscle to a size as great as any man had ever achieved. The armlet expanded along with the flesh underneath it. “I need you to help me with the fit: does it slide when I move my arm?”

She could sense the unease in Howard as he reacted.

“No, it looks ok,” he said quietly.

“How about now?”Julia prompted. She flexed harder, this time swelling the muscle to volume that would have been unimaginable on Earth.

She heard her boyfriend's breathing shallow. So CUTE how he reacted to her in this way. “It still… uh… looks good.”

“And how about now?” She flexed it to its max, the muscle greedily consuming more and more space with its volume.

Howard’s reaction was priceless – almost total shock. He had seen those muscles before, but never pumped to their max.

There was no doubt about it now. Howard could barely think when she was showing off her power!

“So, what was it you wanted to ask me?” Julia, prompted, feeling playful.

He cleared his throat. “I guess I just wanted to know when we could discuss…”

She began to put her hair up, the position of her arms flaring her back into a wide “V”. Her shoulders bunched into thick piles of muscle as she slid the hairpins into her bun. She noted Howard watching every undulation of her oversized muscles. His breathing shallowed. His heartbeat increased. He was so intimidated! She almost giggled to see the look on his face.

“Yes honey?” She teased.

“… going home.”

“Maybe tomorrow evening?”

Howard seemed uncomfortable at that response. “We have to wait that long?”

“The recital is obviously tonight. And then Ruth and I are going for a five hundred mile swim tomorrow. And there is simply NO way I could cut that short. So the best I can do is tomorrow evening.”

Her work at the vanity complete, Julia stood, towering over her boyfriend. He looked up at her with a combination of awe and fear. It made her ache with affection for him: SO small, SO weak, SO fragile – and so, SO sexy.

“OK.” His voice was humbled.

The corner of her lip curled up in amusement. He was like pliable clay now!

Julia pressed the clasp of her bandeau top. It popped off under the force of her breasts, which expanded to their natural, perfect teardrop shape. A click of the clasp on the side of her bikini sent that garment, too, tumbling to the ground. Out of the tiny gift box, Julia extracted the net of jewels that was supposed to serve as a dress. She slipped it on over her head, its string-like netting doing little to conceal her musculature. Poor Howard was watching every undulation of every muscle. It was time to press her experiment a bit further.

 

“ACTUALLY, tomorrow’s not good either. Ruth and I have spa appointments after the swim – ladies only. I had forgotten about that.”

“Forgotten? I thought you guys had perfect memory?”

“Guess I had an ‘Earth Girl’ moment. Oops.” Julia shrugged, casting him an innocent smile. “And then the next day Mindy’s taking me back to the gym in the morning for my weekly pump-up. So maybe that afternoon? I have an appointment at the tailor, but we could talk while I’m being fitted.”

His tone was tentative. “Julia, waiting two days just to have a simple conversation, I…”

“Two days is reasonable,” Julia purred, knowing it wasn’t. She had turned herself to a profile view in the mirror, clasped her hands at the waist, and exerted her muscles into a subtle crab pose. The muscles of her torso exploded outward. Julia made a show of examining how well the slinky dress handled her expanded volume.

He gulped. “OK.”

Julia couldn’t believe how easy it had been. Just like that, with the mere act of getting dressed – she had defeated him!

“Does this dress show off my muscles enough? Ruth says that a good dress reminds men of a woman’s power rather than conceals it” She adopted a double-biceps pose, her lats and shoulders exploding with volume as each of her biceps ballooned larger than Howard’s head.

The gasp that escaped Howard’s lips this time would have been audible even to male ears. He seemed to recoil into the shadow cast by her massive body. “I think it makes your muscles very clear.”

“Thanks.” She slipped the dress off and handed it to him. Julia wondered whether the slinky garment was probably the one object in a woman’s life that a weak little man could handle. Julia dipped her fingers into a palm-sized tub of gelatinous perfume and smoothed it over her fingertips. “You seem perturbed. I hope you’re not upset with me, honey.”

“Well, to be honest…”

But Howard’s voice trailed off as he watched her fingers spread the gel over the thick domes of her shoulders, over the extreme swells of her triceps, and then around the outline of her enormous pectoral muscles. Howard’s gaze followed each twist and turn, each rise and fall, of that index finger with a clear sense of trepidation.

“No, I’m not upset,” he concluded.

This time both corners of her mouth turned up into a smile. Total victory.

“You are a keeper, Howard. There is no doubt about it.” She handed him the small tub of perfume. “Can you help me with my mid-section? Under the breasts and on my tummy.”

He dipped a finger into the tub. “That’s a strange place for perfume.”

“Not when nine of ten noses are at that level.” Julia watched his progress in the mirror. She could feel the coolness of the perfume as he applied it to the crease between her breasts and her ribcage. She giggled when she felt his finger sink into the centerline of her abdominals, so deep that even his second knuckle was hardly visible.

“Mindy says that my abs are great, even for the Nourished. She says that if I concentrate on my abs at the gym this week, I can probably get my crunches up to ten tons.”

Julia felt Howard’s finger tremble a bit at that news.

“Howard… I want to ask you one more thing.”

Howard’s trembling finger was tracing the horizontal line between the first and second rows of her abdominals. He seemed lost in his own sense of intimidation.

She flexed her abdominals just a little bit, trapping his finger in the groove. “Hey buster, I’m talking to you.”

“Julia, I…” Howard tried to extract his finger from her little muscular prison. But her swollen abs had clamped down on their prey with overpowering force. He yanked harder, but his finger may as well have been gripped by pliers.

SO weak, SO cute! “You’re not listening to me, are you?” She flexed her abs just a bit more, her vice-like abdominals now crushing his finger and threatening to break the bone.

“I’m listening. I’m listening,” Howard pleaded.

Julia giggled and released him.

“I want you to try to enjoy yourself here. Relax on the beach. Ask me to take you exploring. Have me give you more blow jobs than you can count. Whatever you desire. You’re safe, and you’re on vacation. Can you promise me to try and enjoy it?”

“OK,” he said, his cradling his finger, his tone distant. He seemed to gaze at the phalanx of muscle with newfound respect. Tentatively, he ran his thumb over one of the domes. When he spoke again, his voice was stunned. “Your muscles are like iron.”

“That soft?” She laughed. “Harder than iron. Harder than titanium, actually. Many times harder.”

“That’s impossible. Titanium is…”

Using the image in the dressing table mirror for guidance, Julia placed her fingers over his. She pressed down gently, compressing the softness of his bones against the firmness of her muscles. His fingers felt so delicate to her. She gently increased the pressure until she heard him cry ‘OWWW!’.

She held him firmly in place, despite his discomfort, to emphasize the point. “If you have to choose between walking into a woman or walking into a concrete wall, pick the wall.” She released his fingers. “It will hurt less.”

Howard rubbed his hands, a look of renewed concern on his face.

“I’m not trying to freak you out, honey. I just need you to know this, for your own safety, before you venture into a crowded recital hall.”

He stopped rubbing. “I thought I didn’t have to go to the recital.”

“I never said that. Mindy said that. But I think you should go, to show support for our hosts. Ruth and Mindy have been wonderful to us. Without them, I would be in some sort of holding facility and you – you could have wound up in any number of awful situations. And what’s more, I like them. We can’t let down our friends.”

“They’ll understand!” Howard almost pleaded.

“It’s the least we could do for this family. Do right by them now, and I’ll do right by you in due time.”

Howard didn’t reply. He was being such a brat.

Julia recalled that other women related to their men using a particular tone of authority. She had used it once, inadvertently, back at the beach house when he had refused to pay attention to her. It worked then, and Julia could only wonder how much better it would work if she did it more deliberately.

“Howard…” Her new tone filled the room with its power, vibrating the metal combs on the vanity and sending tiny ripples in the water of a drinking glass. “I’m losing my patience.”

Julia almost laughed at the way Howard’s eyes widened. He seemed at a loss for words. She put her hands on her hips, allowing her sumptuous muscles to swell with displeasure.

“Honey?” She had further deepened the timbre of her voice. On the vanity, the comb and the jewelry rattled with its power.

“I’ll go put a tie on.”

——————

Julia looked resplendent for the recital. Even Howard found himself admiring her.

The “gown” did more to adorn her body than conceal it. Imperial blue, it attached around her neck with a choker-type collar. It was backless down to her waist, revealing the full width of her torso and the deep groove formed by the depth of her spine between two flanks of thick muscle. It was sleeveless, too, allowing her biceps to show off their glistening armlets. And in the front, it opened wide from her neck to her belly button, coming together only at the breasts to create a narrow bridge across the sea of her flesh. Floating on that sea were two nets of jeweled stones. One net extended from her collar to the material bridging her nipples. Attached to that net was a jeweled cord that plunged between her breasts to emerge on the bottom side, fanning out into a second net that sparkled over her midriff.

As they entered the recital hall, Howard could see television screens scrolling through something – sheet music, perhaps – at incredibly high speeds. It was a blur to Howard. But he noticed that women would keep one eye on the screens even as they settled into their seats.

“What’s on the screens?”

“The musical score. Don’t stare at it. I hear it can make a man seasick.” She took his hand and led him through the crowd.

He was dwarfed by the women around him, as though he were deep in a forest. But the forest constantly shifted around him. And the trees were immense columns of muscle covered by veneers of silk, satin, and velvet and smelling of flowers.

“Ruth got us tickets in the Women’s Section,” his girlfriend explained from above, “but she said that it's not just for women. Men often sit there too, so that a couple can experience the music together.”

“Then why not just call it ‘Everybody’s Section’?”

“Because you won’t be able to see over the women sitting in front of you. If you want a view, then you’d have to go back to the Men’s Section.”

Howard took a seat between Julia on one side and Roddie on the other. Ruth was two seats down. There were many girls performing today in various combinations, and many family members were in the audience.

Julia turned to him. “Nice pick for a tie. You look good. I saw more than one lady in the aisle checking you out.”

As the lights began to dim, the screens dimmed as well.

“They’re going to turn off the screens for the performance?”

“Remember?” She tapped her temple with her index finger. “Perfect retention. Everybody already has the score memorized.”

You’re forgetting those of us who are not part of the ‘everybody’, Howard silently fumed. It was another ‘Earth Girl’ moment.

When the music started, it began simply but quickly grew more complex. Flowing, sensuous, elegantly rhythmic – Howard could tell that it was a performance of the highest caliber, something that would have required a trip to Chicago if Howard wanted to hear it at home. But the chords, the instruments – they were all different. Howard listened as carefully as he could.

And there was no point in doing anything else. A teenage girl was seated in front of him. Dainty corkscrew curls, angelic face – on Earth, she probably would have been a little wisp. Here, she towered over him, those dainty corkscrew curls tumbling down a wall of pure muscle. Howard’s eyes were even with the midpoint of that formidable wall, so that he spent the performance looking at a freckle rather than the stage.

After a time, the music became so complex that Howard could scarcely follow it. And he could tell that Roddie was in the same state, dully staring at his kneecaps.

A nudge from Julia indicated to him when Mindy was performing. Howard made sure to clap when everybody else did, but otherwise allowed his thoughts to wander.

And they wandered straight back to Mindy. She had been on his mind constantly since the terrifying episode in the parking lot. The girl had threatened to kill him – and she seemed all too willing to follow through on that threat. If she had made those threats only a few days earlier, Howard would have gone straight to Julia, implored her to protect him, and urged her to cut ties with the crazy girl until they could go home.

But what a difference those few days made! Now, Julia knew the way home and she seemed to be in no rush to take him there. What was worse, she seemed to have a new best friend here in crazyland – and it was the very girl that had terrorized him! There was the trip to the gym with Mindy. Then the trip to Kentucky with Mindy. Now, Mindy’s recital couldn’t be missed for all the world.

The freckle-covered wall of muscle before him shifted. She was fidgeting, like any other teenager would. But this teenager could tear an automobile in half. They all had so much power! He was completely at the mercy of the fairer sex.

It would be one thing if Julia’s growing bond to Mindy was offset by a steadfast determination to go home. But her schedule over the coming days – shopping, social gatherings – it was a full slate of suburban banality. Was this her new life? And was Mindy creating a bond with her that would shut him out, leave him as destitute as the hordes of unattached men here?

“That was splendid!” Julia announced as the proceedings broke for intermission. “Your daughter was wonderful up there.”

Howard could see the glow in Ruth’s eyes at the compliment as the three of them, plus Roddie, stood up and proceeded into the aisle.

“I loved the third movement, when the theme the strings had performed during the first movement became the harmony for the wind instruments, but in a different key. And Mindy’s piece, the ode to bird songs – I was so impressed by the way her tune created the impression of randomly wandering throughout the range of the instrument, while in actuality, every tenth note returned to a very methodical march up and down an octave scale at a set pace. It was a wonderful juxtaposition of the seeming frivolity of a bird’s song and the intelligent, deliberate structure beneath it – the fact that birds are actually sending messages through their song.”

“What did you think, Howard?” Ruth asked.

“It sounded very… pretty.” Howard tried to think of something more sophisticated to say, but he knew nothing about orchestral music. “Your daughter plays really well.”

Julia scowled. “Is that it?”

“That probably is.” Ruth placed a reassuring touch on Julia’s forearm, one tower of female might approaching the other, compressing the space in between. “Your mind is different than his now. Don’t make him feel badly if he cannot follow all the subtleties.”

Julia took a deep breath, the glistening nets of jewels sparkling as they shifted under the recital hall lights. “I’m sorry, honey. Would you be happier in the Men’s Section? From there, you should be able to see the stage, and they have some entertainment in the seats if you get tired of trying to follow along.”

Howard found himself shrugging his shoulders in agreement. Near the end of the intermission, an usher showed him to the correct section. But when he arrived, the section was full. Howard wound up standing in the back, where several other men were also standing. He could see Julia and Ruth below, conversing happily. What need did she have for him, Howard thought bitterly, when there were other female friends more at her level?

He felt more trapped than ever.

“I’ve seen that expression before.” A man who was leaning against the same wall whispered to him. “You’re sick and tired of it. And you’re not going to take it anymore.”

“That’s pretty much how it is,” Howard replied. Luckily, this was one of several hundred conversations occurring during intermission, so the chances of Julia overhearing him were nil. But just to be sure, he kept his voice at a whisper.

“Has your mistress promised to make things better?”

“Yup.” Howard nodded. “To take me out of all this – take me away.”

“And has she delivered?”

“If she had, I wouldn’t be sitting through this stupid recital.”

The man smirked.

In the orchestra seating below, he could see the cords on Julia’s neck suddenly tense. It was still intermission; there were hundreds of conversations cluttering the air. But nonetheless… had she heard him?

The other man observed the concern. He signaled toward an exit, and Howard followed.

Once the two were in the corridor, they continued speaking in whispers.

“The doors to the recital hall are soundproof,” the man assured Howard. “They need it that way or they can’t enjoy the music. We can talk safely out here.”

Howard glanced nervously at the door. “OK. Do you think they heard us?”

“Too much commotion in there. Not a chance.”

——————

“Only twenty yards away,” Julia seethed as they sat back down in their chairs. “Does he think I can’t hear every word?”

“Probably. Even his new friend underestimated our hearing. That’s intentional, Julia. Encouraging men to underestimate us because it makes them so much easier to monitor. Our government has been doing it for a very long time. It’s for the man’s own good.

“… not delivered… stupid recital…” Her boyfriend’s words had filtered down from the balcony above. He was being a complete brat. The words of the conversation had been so clear, she may as well have been standing next to the men. “I can’t believe every woman in the room is hearing my boyfriend air his grievances.”

Ruth didn’t disagree.

“I found the way home for him. I showed it to him on the damn screen. I brought back an Earth object to prove that the route was sound. And after all that, he‘s still ungrateful?”

Up on the men’s balcony, Howard’s conversation stopped abruptly, almost as if one of the men had realized their mistake.

“He’s doing this because he hates being weaker than me. Because being strong one is the only role he knows how to play. And because of that, he can’t stand being here even one minute longer than he absolutely has to. It’s making me crazy!” Juila balled her fists in frustration, her arms tensing as well and forcing the armlets to expand wide around her enlarging muscles.

“You may need to put him back in his place,” Ruth observed.

Julia found herself tempted by the idea. He was so powerless to resist her…

Julia took a moment to exchange waves with Mindy up on stage as the girl took her seat again. She had done up her hair in a do, and was in a sheer silvery dress that hugged everything from her collarbone to her ankles. She looked beautiful. And in contrast to Howard, so at peace with herself.

When the music resumed, it was just as beautiful. The second movement was about the rising of the two moons in the evening sky. One moon was large, bright and associated with the feminine. The other was smaller, redder and associated with the masculine. They always accompanied each other in the sky – the feminine one more placid in appearance and slower in its celestial travel, the masculine more animated in its movement, often circling its larger companion. They were analogies for the behavior of the genders generally.

During the intermission, Ruth had commented how the moon symbolism was often used by women and men to understand their relationships with each other. “A man can be emotional and temperamental,” Ruth had said. “But we women, possessed of so much power, must be placid, graceful and steady. We love our men for their emotional qualities, so we cannot fault them if they are at times too passionate.”

Perhaps, Howard and I, too, are dancing this same dance, she wondered—- the temperamental man, the strong but steady woman – him circling her as they crossed the heavens.

Julia was torn. His petulance made her unhappy. But just the sound of his voice, however petulant, could turn her insides to jelly and made her quiver with need. Part of her wished, more than anything, that she could march up to that balcony right now, scoop him up, find a broom closet somewhere, and…

Howard might be misguided, but was still the object of her intense love, Julia realized. He just needed to be put in his place.

——————

Howard leaned against the corridor wall, waiting.

The man rubbed his chin. “I can help you. For a price.”

“What sort of help?” Howard asked.

“There’s a new drug on the black market. Mind control. Just one pill and she’s yours to command.”

The man wrote the location down on a piece of paper. “Meet my boys there in two days.”

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