Fiction: The Butterfly Dragon I: Heroes Of Our Own - Act I: The Genius And The Butterfly by Brian Joseph Johns

Warning: This story deals with some mature situations. Reader discretion is advised.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Act I: The Genius And The Butterfly

1996 Suburbia

A suburban family, a community with parks, amenities and everything a growing mind could ever want. This is where the story of our two little girls continues and where Alicia, a genius about to blossom is about to change upon the chance meeting of two very different people. A retired scientific legend forgotten by the world around her and her soon to be best friend Ai Yuanlin Ying, the daughter of a Chinese family whose flight through the field of life has led her to the path of the Butterfly Dragon.


It was after school and she was on her way home. They didn't follow her this time as they usually did. To taunt her and call her names. Alicia Westin was a girl of sixteen and she had a slight weight problem. She didn't see it that way of course for to her it was more than just slight. She'd managed to for most of her life go unnoticed but once she'd gotten to grade five and everyone else began to fill out, she stood out by comparison. That often made her a target of cruelty but nonetheless she persevered. Alicia was a naturally gifted genius lost in the woes of her poor self image. A self image which was constantly reinforced by the abuse of those who couldn't understand. Alicia was merely a means of propping up their social status. If you wanted to get noticed in school you just had to pick on Alicia and your status was elevated amongst your peers. She'd become hardened but she'd also become afraid. She'd kept her great potential locked up in her afraid to share and made so from the abundance of scorn she'd come to know.

Alicia found that people could be unusually cruel at times. She'd never been an instigator in any instance but often she'd found herself victimized by people looking to use her as a social stepping stone. She wondered how life would be in the working world. Am I always going to be treated like this? she asked herself. She'd dreamt of doing something in the sciences, as a lab researcher coming up with cures for existing diseases and disorders. Doing such work though might involve being subject to similar abuse if people were like this everywhere. She considered other vocations that might lead to a more secluded life. Perhaps she could find a vocation where she'd be working with and less around people. After all the world didn't really need her (or want her) to be a scientific researcher. She just wanted to be in a place where she'd be useful in some way and away from the day to day scorn that many people had for her. She considered that perhaps it was time to give up on her dream of becoming a researcher and choose something a bit more realistic given how she was often treated. So it was that she decided to give up on her dream and instead choose a path where she'd be more isolated from the kind of people who'd bothered her.

She trailed the sidewalk path to her home maintaining a low profile. Her head down looking at the ground instead of ahead and on to her future. Her home was within walking distance and she'd lived there with her parents since she was three. They'd purchased the home after two years of her parents saving what they needed for the down payment from the time she was a year old. It was a modest bungalow with a back split lower level but it was theirs. When she'd made it safely home she quickly ate a snack to keep her tears at bay. Food sometimes helped and at other times going to bed early and crying herself to sleep was the only escape.

She'd never been a cruel person either, using her weight for pity or provoking conflict from others to benefit from sympathy or to make enemies out of innocent people. Manouvring and manipulating others to benefit from victimization. There was no malice in her whatsoever in that regard. She'd seen some in her school who used their predicament to secretly instigate others so that they could make trouble for innocent people and benefit from sympathy. She'd despised that kind of thing for it made it difficult for people like her and real victims of abuse to be taken seriously. Not only that but the innocent victims of such reversal often suffered greatly as a result and that just made things worse for everyone. Hence because of that nobody would ever dare to stick up for her and that ultimately had made her plight worse and sometimes unbearable. To cope Alicia always found that when she spent her time creatively, imagining and inventing that she'd be removed from her suffering and often come up with great ideas in the process. On this particular day she had an appointment and she pulled herself together so that she wouldn't be late.

"Where are you going young lady?" her Mother asked her a look of concern on her face.

"I've got an appointment tonight. At the retirement home. I`m volunteering there. Remember?" she handed her Mother her volunteering schedule.

"Alright. Call us if you need anything. Let us know when you're done and we'll come pick you up when your Father gets home from work." her Mother told her.

"Bye." Alicia replied trying to hide her blood shot eyes from her Mother to save her from worrying.

She was out the door and on the bus ten minutes later.

When she'd arrived she waltzed in the front door and was spied by a number of people who were loitering in the front.

"We'll I'll be. They're just letting them in here younger and younger now a days." one of the older women said to her elder peers.

"Darn tootin. Ya got that right! They must be getting short of money or something. Our retirement money." another said as she laughed.

"I just thought I'd let the rest of you know that I've retired from retiring." Ethel joked.

"So does that mean you're coming or you're going?" another one asked her bursting out into laughter.

"I couldn't tell you. I think I'll retire for the day." Ethel replied drawing another round of laughter.

"Its five O’clock." said Henri.

"No. Henri. I didn't ask for the time. Ethel was just saying that they're letting residents in here younger and younger." Mary looked over to Ethel.

"They are?" Henri confirmed with Ethel.

"It was a joke!" Ethel returned a little bit frustrated.

"Oh. Alright. Must be dinner soon?" Henri continued unphased.

The young girl approached the office and knocked once before entering.

"I'm here to see Mrs. Whethers." she said as she stepped into the tiny office.

"You must be the new volunteer. Alicia is it? I'm Anne Whethers, the Program Coordinator here. I'll have Dora come down and give a run down on what you'll be doing." Mrs. Whethers told Alicia who nodded shyly.

"You're a little bit young to be doing this don't you think?" Mrs. Whethers asked her.

"No. I just turned sixteen. I thought it would be good to become involved in some way. For my post secondary school application." Alicia told her honestly.

"Just because you're not getting paid for this don't expect that you won't be expected to work as hard." Mrs. Whethers informed her authoritatively.

"I don't." Alicia said a little bit defensively.

"Good." Mrs. Whethers said as the door opened behind Alicia.

"Dora. Would you take Alicia here into the kitchen and show her the ropes. We've got a half an hour until dinner and I'd like to make sure that she knows what she's doing." Mrs. Whethers looked over to Dora.

"Alright. Alicia, I'm Dora. I'm going to show you where you'll be situated and helping us.

Dora stepped out of the tiny office with Alicia trying to keep up.

"Don't worry about her. She runs a tight ship and she treats everyone the same way," Dora told Alicia obviously referring to Mrs. Whethers.

"Its alright." Alicia told her trying to keep up.

They rounded a corner and stepped into the kitchen which was a whirlwind of activity despite only two people being in there.

"This is the kitchen. Its where they prepare the meals here. You won't be working in here but you'll be working with the people who do. I do the cooking around here. Sue and Jeff here do general custodian work and double as prep cooks around meal time." Dora explained.

Sue and Jeff nodded to Alicia and she smiled back a little withdrawn.

Dora stepped into the serving area bringing Alicia with her.

"This is where you'll spend most of your time during your evening shift. Serving meals and picking up plates afterward and loading the dishwashers." Dora explained to her quickly.

It took Dora another ten minutes to run through Alicia's duties before she set Alicia to work.

As the dinner hour arrived, the residents started marching into the kitchen area. Some were happy to see a new face while others were grumpy but Alicia took it all in stride. After all, they'd been here on the planet before her and she was climbing the world atop their shoulders. She thought it was the least that she could do.

When she got through serving she took a moment to look around the room. They were all Seniors and most were healthy. There was the odd person who was confined to wheelchair or with a walking cane. This was the place where those who had nobody left ended up and most did not have the finances to afford much. Some of them had experienced success in their life and others had just grazed by, with either nobody left or abandoned by their families to spend the rest of their days here. Alicia's arrival had become the talk of the diners as it was the only thing that had happened to stir them up from their day to day experience of life.

There was however one lady who sat in the corner, wearing an old lab coat. She ate by herself and seemed to keep quiet and paid little attention to the other diners. There was something about her that Alicia could not quite put her finger on, but there was something for sure.

The diners slowly finished up their dinner and filed out one at a time back to their rooms in the building. Alicia went about cleaning the tables off one at a time. When she got to the table where the lady in the lab coat had been sitting, she noticed that there was small bound note book sitting on the table. All the other patrons had gone so she grabbed it kept it on her until she could turn it in.

Her chores took all of another hour to complete and as she washed herself and got ready, she overheard some people talking in the hall.

"I was up on the eighth floor the other day and there was Sylvia again. There she was just writing in that book with that crazed look on her face. I don't know what she's doing with it." one lady said.

"Oh, she's lonely for crying out loud. She's probably just writing to remember. Nostalgia. You know?" a male resident said.

"I don't know what she's writing but who..." the gossip continued and Alicia noted the lady's name and that they mentioned the eighth floor.

Alicia opened the notebook careful not to spy its contents looking for an indication of the owner. She found it on the back cover, the address and apartment number. She put her apron in the bin for cleaning and walked out into the hall and towards the elevator.

When she emerged on the eighth floor, she was greeted by silence though a few of the apartment doors were open. She followed the directions that a sign had directed her in search of her apartment and found it down the hall. She approached it quietly and noted that the door was open. She tapped the door quietly.

"Hello?" she said noticing that the lady sat in a chair snoozing quietly, her back to Alicia.

"Hello. Miss?" Alicia approached the chair.

"Who are you?! You don't work for them do you?" the elderly awoke lady and turned a little more spry than Alicia had anticipated.

Alicia stepped back startled.

"Yes. I work for the building. I'm a volunteer." Alicia told the lady holding the book up defensively.

"So you're a pick pocket are you?" the lady countered.

"No. You left this down on the table. The dinner table. Where you ate tonight." Alicia said to her.

"I did not! Wait. Oh. I'm sorry my little dear. Yes I did." the lady paused as if backtracking through her steps.

"You see. I did not button my bottom button on my coat. But I put my lucky thimble in my pocket. So that means I forgot to put my book in my pocket." the lady said as she backtracked her memory.

"Why do you say that?" Alicia asked her.

"Because I always button my bottom button after I've picked up my book. So I remember." the lady said to Alicia obviously overjoyed by her company.

"Well. Anyway. Here is your book. I have to go." Alicia told her politely still a little bit defensive.

"Well maybe I should give you something. I mean, this book is one of the most important things I have you know. More valuable than anything really. I should give you something." the lady insisted.

"No. I don't want anything except for you to have your book." Alicia told her, some of her concern had abandoned her.

"Alright. If you see me the next time you come though, you come and sit with me and talk. After you have done your volunteering. I will tell you one secret from my book each time you do. You already know its first secret. My address! I'm Sylvia." the lady told Alicia holding out her hand.

"I'm Alicia. I'll see what I can do if I'm not too busy." Alicia spoke without considering what she had said.

Sylvia looked at her carefully.

"I'll make the time to come and sit down with you when I can. I've got to go now." Alicia waved to Sylvia and left the room.

"Nice young lady. A bit aloof though." Sylvia turned to her book and started writing.

Alicia's First Friends

Alicia arrived at the retirement residence the following day after a long day at school. She'd spent most of the night putting the finishing touches on an assignment which she turned over to the teacher first thing in the morning only to ask for it back again to make a final change. After she was satisfied she handed it back and continued her day as usual.

It was much the same as always. Some of the other students would poke fun at her and she'd mostly ignore them. The only thing that was different was how her day at school ended. She'd been on her way out of the front doors on her way directly to the retirement residence. As she walked she heard the cat calls of one of the local bully troupes behind her. She picked up her pace and did her best to ignore them though they persisted nearly all the way to the retirement home before taking a detour and heading on their way.

She picked up her pace when she still felt as if she was being followed.

"I get the feeling that you don't like them?" a voice from behind her asked.

Alicia turned around to see a young Asian girl of Oriental descent questioning her.

"Whatever gave you that idea?" Alicia asked the girl the edge of sarcasm thick in her voice and a tear on her cheek.

"I don't know. Just a hunch." the girl replied with a completely straight face.

They paused for a moment and eventually Alicia broke out into a fit of giggles followed shortly thereafter by the stranger whose smile made it even funnier.

"They do that to me sometimes too. Because..." the Asian girl paused.

"Because they're ignorant and they don't know any better." Alicia finished her sentence.

"Something like that though I think you're giving them too much credit." the Asian girl replied still smiling.

"At least you seem to take it well." Alicia responded to the Asian girl's seemingly unshakeable optimism.

"Well I'm really protecting them from themselves. Besides if I did react with violence towards them, I could really hurt them. So when they do that to me I remember that if it wasn't me they were bothering, they might bother someone who did not have the kind of self control that I have. So I try to remember that I have control of myself and that I am capable of really hurting them. Because I know this I'd rather it be me they pick on. I can take it and maybe someone else can't. Maybe someone who is sensitive enough to really hurt themselves or someone else. So long as my response is just words and they don't hurt me, I'm protecting them and anyone else who could be their victim. Besides the tricky ones are the ones who can pick on you without others knowing. If you react to that then you become the bad person. So really I'm protecting them though they don't deserve it but you do if it takes a bit of pressure off of you that I'm their target for a bit. It kind of turns things around, don't you think?" the Asian girl responded.

Alicia's eyes teared slightly.

"You must know. We notice a lot of things when we're different than other people, don't we?" the Asian girl asked her.

"I guess that's a good way of looking at it. It's sometimes hard when you're alone though." Alicia replied to the girl.

"I guess that`s my point. We`re not alone. When I get that feeling though like I am alone, I try to direct it in a positive direction. Like my artwork or my designs." the Asian girl told her.

"Designs?" Alicia asked her thinking about her own idea for a solar charged wheelchair.

"I'm Heylyn. Heylyn Yates. You know. From your third class in the day and mine too." Heylyn offered a hand which Alicia accepted firmly shaking it.

"I'm Alicia and yes I remember you. You're always so quiet." Alicia told Heylyn acknowledging her presence at least a bit.

"So are you. I guess we don`t draw attention that way." Heylyn said to Alicia.

Heylyn took her backpack off and put it on the ground in between them. She brushed her long hair out of her face and began rummaging through it pulling what appeared to be a scrapbook from it. She stood up, thumbing through the pages before showing one she found appropriate to Alicia.

"Here. This is what I do most of the time in that class. I guess being quiet is a way not to attract attention so I can practice more." Heylyn handed the book to Alicia.

Alicia took the book and eyed the drawing. It was an artistically drawn model wearing an elaborate costume perhaps a banquet gown of some sort. The drawing appeared just like an illustration you'd find on a sewing pattern or fashion magazine.

"You see? That part is a shall to be worn if its chilly but because of its shape it can be wrapped into a scarf of sorts as well without bulking up appearance because of its shape." Heylyn explained.

"You drew this?" Alicia asked her new friend in amazement.

"Yes. That's the design. I'm going to wear this to the graduation dance." Heylyn told her.

"You mean you're going to buy it?" Alicia asked.

"No. I am going to make it." Heylyn told her flipping the page which held the same design from a different perspective.

"You're going to the graduation? Who asked you?" Alicia asked Heylyn.

Heylyn stood for a moment thinking about her question and then laughed a bit.

"You don't need a date to go to a dance or graduation. Have you ever been to a wedding? Do you think there's people without dates there? They don't only invite other married people to weddings you know. You can go without a date to a graduation or dance. I am. What about you?" Heylyn asked Alicia.

"Are you asking me to the graduation?" Alicia asked a little bit warily.

"No. I am asking if you are going?" Heylyn asked Alicia without hesitation.

"No. I mean... no I'm not going without a date." Alicia told her.

"You mean you aren't going because you don't have a date?" Heylyn verified.

"Well. I thought you were supposed to have a date. None of the guys at school really look at me. They don't look at me in that way you know." Alicia handed Heylyn's design book back to her and turned to continue her journey to her volunteer placement.

"Wait. You didn't see what I wanted to show you. Take a look at this." Heylyn extended the book in Alicia's direction.

Alicia stopped and took it from her looking at the page Heylyn had turned to. It depicted another very elegant dress, that wrapped around the curvacious behind of a woman who was obviously a bit larger, but the dress accentuated her figure and appeal. Alicia looked closer and observed something odd about the figure. It looked much like her.

"That's beautiful." Alicia spoke unable to express her surprise.

"Look, all this drawing in class has put me a bit behind in that class. I need your help. I know that you're a... well you're very bright. I thought that we could make a deal." Heylyn offered.

"What sort of deal?" Alicia asked Heylyn.

"You spend the next month and a half before exams bringing me up to speed in that class, and while you do I'll work on that graduation dress for you. The one from the picture if you like it?" Heylyn asked Alicia.

This was a bit of a shock to Alicia, who'd never really had a friend before. Alicia had always been a sort of loner and not much with social etiquette though she'd often yearned for such friendship. A friend with whom she could speak about anything but academics. This was a start.

"Alright. I'll do it." Alicia said diving in all at once, ironically with the feeling of butterflies in her stomach.

"Great! That means I won't fail and you'll have something to wear for the graduation. What color?" Heylyn asked her.

Alicia paused a moment thinking carefully.

"Purple. Purple and a dark color. For the night. Like a night style or something." Alicia smiled and blushed thinking about it.

"Alright. Purple it is. When the guys see you in this, they'll see everything about you that they missed. Let`s just say this will open their eyes. They'll be kicking themselves for it too. Not only that but you'll get the chance to dance. I love dancing even if I have to do it by myself. It makes you feel alive. When they see you on the dance floor with this dress on..." Heylyn said confidently.

"You mean I'm going to be exposed?" Alicia stepped back a little shocked grabbing the picture and looking it over closely.

"Exposed? You mean...? No. Not at all. Trust me?" Heylyn held out her hand giggling slightly.

"One more thing. How did you get the name Heylyn Yates if you're from...?" Alicia asked her sincerely.

"Yes, I'm Oriental. When my parents emigrated from the Far East of Asia my Father thought that it would be best if we legally assumed proper and family names that were more like North American names so to speak. He explained to my Mother and my Grandmother who accompanied him, that we would experience less prejudice based upon what people read in a telephone book, or even his CV or resume and that I'd experience less heckling during school attendance. He was right in many ways. We took both aliases for our first and family names to avoid such trouble and it worked. Most people formed their opinion of us upon meeting us in person rather than in seeing our names. Besides, Heylyn is a rare name and Yates? It worked well for Mr. William Butler... Who was one of my dad's favorite western poets. So do we have a deal?" Heylyn explained keeping her hand extended in wait.

Alicia listened while looking over the design from Heylyn's drawing book.

"Alright. We have a deal." Alicia held out her hand once again and shook Heylyn's.

"Great. I'll bring the measuring tape tomorrow and take your measurements. Good night. Friend? Can I call you a friend now?" Heylyn asked Alicia.

"Yes you can but only if I can." Alicia answered.

"Yes you can. My first friend." Heylyn answered her honestly.

"Me too." Alicia replied and turned and started in a brisk pace towards the senior's home.

Alicia's night went ahead as it did the night before. She assisted the kitchen staff in preparing the plates and trays for the seniors who showed up for dinner just as they had the day before. Slowly the filed in and made small talk, then shuffled off with their food to eat in the dining area. Alicia kept her eyes open for Sylvia, who arrived fashionably late wearing a similar lab coat as the one she'd worn yesterday.

"Well young lady. It seems you've made it for day two I see. Apparently you can achieve! Well that's worth your reward as I've promised." Sylvia trailed off as she picked up her tray and went to the same table and sat down. She pulled her notebook from her jacket and then instinctively undid the first button on her jacket before pulling a pen from her pocket and jotting something in it. She then consumed her dinner, one mouthful at a time alone with her book of secrets.

Alicia tried not to pay her too much attention, but found her eyes wandering over to Sylvia while she sat alone at the table. Shortly before the hour, Sylvia pocketed her book and pen, then buttoned her coat up as she'd mentioned to Alicia the night before. She then proceeded upstairs presumably to be scrutinized and ridiculed by the other residence.

Alicia finished her cleaning and duties after the dining area was clear and made her way upstairs to Sylvia's apartment. When she arrived the door was closed unlike the night before so Alicia knocked gently. A moment later the door opened slightly letting a shaft of light fall across Sylvia's face which peered out.

"Not one of the spies I see. Ok. Ok. Come in, though don't let any of those pests in mind you." Sylvia stepped back from the door and flicked turned the dimmer switch so that a nice, soft ambient glow filled the room.

Alicia stepped in and quietly closed the door.

"It appears that I am in arrears to you young lady. I have promised you something that you are undoubtedly going to leave without understanding the full value of what I am going to give you. Is that right?" Sylvia confirmed with Alicia who had a thoroughly confused look on her face.

"Well I won't know that until you give it to me." Alicia told her in all honesty.

"Nor will you even when I give it to you really if you think about it." Sylvia told Alicia without confronting her.

"What does that mean?" Alicia asked.

"Well. It's our first secret you know. You never know how valuable something is to know until after you run into a situation that you realize its usefulness and fail to use it." Sylvia told her, pausing for effect.

"Wait a second. You mean that you are telling me that I won't know the value of something until I lose out on something else by not having realized its use in a situation that could have won me that something?" Alicia asked with her youthful arrogance and confidence.

"Precisely! I could not have put it better myself. Sometimes you have to lose to win. In a matter of speaking. You will only win if you learn something from having lost." Sylvia explained to a somewhat skeptical Alicia.

"So this secret has no value until I lose out. Even knowing it. You mean like learning from a mistake?" Alicia's question came out more like a statement.

"No. Not a mistake because it isn't a mistake. Not at all. Its the difference between knowing something and recognizing when to apply it though no doubt you'll miss a few before you understand. Some things have to be lived to be understood." Sylvia explained to her.

"I feel a bit slighted. I thought you were going to..." Alicia started.

"I didn't slight you at all. I've only affirmed with you the fact that when you feel like you've lost, you haven’t really lost at all. You've won a lesson, assuming you lived through it. If you pay attention." Sylvia expressed this last statement in exaggerated words slurred to make the point.

"Look, I've got to go Sylvia. I don't mean to sound unappreciative but maybe I'll understand what you're expressing later on." Alicia thought about it and then about the dress for the graduation.

"My point exactly. If you'd claimed to understand it now I'd have not believed you. Goodnight darling." Sylvia stood and gave her a hug and Alicia hugged her back.

"Good night and sleep well Sylvia." Alicia said as she left closing the door quietly behind her.

Sylvia turned and began to write with a renewed fervor in her book. She wrote a bit about her own childhood and school years and then she wrote a little bit about Alicia. It was like having a daughter. Someone in whom she could confide her vast knowledge and experience. Someone who would remember her after she was gone.

The Tutor And The Butterfly

Three weeks had passed and Alicia's lessons and tutoring had been going well. The library had been mostly empty when they'd arrived. Alicia set up her books and notes where they could both view them. Heylyn took her notebook out and her laptop and listened as Alicia explained the dynamics of molecular biology.

Heylyn had been a good student as had Alicia been a teacher to her. Alicia felt comfortable with Heylyn and their friendship had solidified over the weeks that had passed. Heylyn too had felt no tension between them and had formed a strong bond with Alicia though they could hardly be seen as being codependent upon one another. Alicia had seemed to gain a bit of confidence around the boys in the school, while Heylyn had not been nearly so shy despite the cultural barriers. Most often it was ignorance that sometimes presented itself and Heylyn had learned to deal with it.

Heylyn too had kept her end of the deal and had been working diligently on both of their graduation dresses. She'd brought them with her to fashion arts and sewing class several times already but kept them hidden and protected so that nobody could spy her working on them. Her progress had been great and she'd kept the surprise from Alicia that she had planned to spring on her after their study.

Alicia was currently explaining to her about the mammalian nervous system and the connection between our nerves and our brains. Heylyn grasped the concepts and found it interesting but she longed to be working on her next fashion project. This was necessary though as she'd needed this credit to graduate to her senior years in the school. From there it was off to University, College or Technical school. Whichever would help her to both explore and achieve her dreams of working in the world of fashion design. Ultimately she'd pursue them regardless of her choice of education or even by landing employment at the ground level in a fashion house and working her way up.

Alicia in this lesson had been on her home turf in terms of subjects. She'd always exceeded in biology and the sciences as well as mathematics and they came very naturally to her. Sometimes at home she'd read volumes of text books and other resources such as Grey's Anatomy and other periodicals that she could get her hands on. Chemistry was another strong subject and she'd been very fascinated with exploring the possibilities of DNA and the development of the body through its hidden code, proteins and amino acids.

Alicia had also shared another class with Heylyn in the school band where Alicia was the first Cellist and Heylyn had been lucky enough to learn the Harp (which of course was similar to her experiences with the Guzheng in Jin Hua's class). Of the arts, Alicia had found music the most enjoyable and if she'd been picked on by the local meanies during the day, often she could be found after school in the band room calming herself. Heylyn had accompanied her a few times already and they'd practiced together. Quickly the meanies were soon forgotten as were most of their daily pressures.

"So that wraps up that lesson. Any questions?" Alicia asked Heylyn.

"I think I've got enough to digest for now. So the building blocks of the nervous system and the brain are neurons, which are special cells that allow our nerves to communicate to our brain... and our brain to... send messages and evaluate input from nerves?" Heylyn staggered a bit still examining her notes.

"Yes. That's soma much better than you explained it before. You're getting it." Alicia waited to see if Heylyn caught her pun.

"I think you're getting a little neuronic Alicia. I hope you don't have an axon you!" Heylyn smiled, joking back to her.

Alicia held her face for a moment before bursting out laughing. Heylyn's smile broke and she laughed until she could no longer see.

When they calmed down and Heylyn had wiped the tears from her eyes, she opened her back pack.

"I've got a surprise." Heylyn announced standing as she reached into her knapsack.

"Here. Try it on. I need to check some things so I can make the adjustments. Run to the bathroom and try it on. Here, take this to wear over top of it so nobody can see the dress on your way back." Heylyn handed her the nearly finished graduation gown, and a large piece of black material to wear over it on the way back.

Alicia was stunned when she saw it and wasted no time giving Heylyn a hug before rushing off to the bathroom to try it on. Heylyn waited patiently, cleaning up their notes and books and getting everything packed up. She then pulled her measuring tape from her pocket as Alicia got back.

"Ready?" Alicia confirmed with Heylyn.

"Let's see it." Heylyn confirmed with her.

Alicia dropped the black material covering her and revealed the dress in full. It clung to her body while still remaining comfortable. It was a rich purple, dark gray and black material. The gray pieces of the gown were see through and the black was slinky and satiny and worn partly on the edges of the shoulder leaving Alicia's neck seductively exposed. The black satin stretched down into the bust line under and into the hem, where it was covered over by the purple body of the gown. The translucent gray was sewn into the dress and formed an elongated and heart which was sewn into the left side of the dress. The tip of the heart dipped down Alicia's right side revealing a portion of her hip and thigh while the top of the heart wrapped around her back nearly to her spine and just an inch from her navel the front under Alicia's breast. The base of the skirt curved slightly upward to reveal a bit of Alicia's left leg through a slit just above the knee and up the thigh.

"You look great! How does it feel?" Heylyn kept her smile modest.

"Incredibly comfortable. Very natural. I wish I could see it." Alicia blushed.

"The dress needs a bit of touching up though." Heylyn observed looking it over professionally.

Heylyn handed Alicia a hand mirror as she took the measuring tape to measure part of the shoulder distance between the loops that partially covered Alicia's shoulder's.

Alicia looked into the mirror and felt like Cinderella getting prepared to meet the Prince at the ball. A tear streamed down her cheek and she began to cry.

"Its not that bad? Is it?" Heylyn asked her.

"No." Alicia struggled with words as she gasped, wiping her face.

"It's beautiful." she continued.

"We sure are going to send them for a spin when they see us. We'll have men just eating out of our hands. You'll be brushing them off like mosquitoes." Heylyn laughed, a big smile across her face.

Alicia laughed a bit as she cried. From behind Heylyn she saw a group of the meanies come into the library, pointing directly at them and heading their way. Alicia quickly grabbed up the black material to cover herself and hide the dress. Heylyn turned around and saw the group approaching.

"Well if it isn't the two lover birds. I see you've found yourselves a friend. Which one of you is the boyfriend?" A tall boy with a pimply face spoke.

Three others took to his sides looking the girls over.

"What's under the sheets there Alicia? So ashamed of your body that you've got to hide it now? You never know where Alicia's been you know..." one of the other ones said, pointing his finger at her face like a gun that he held sideways as he pulled the trigger.

Alicia started to cry again, her tears streaming down despite her struggles against their taunts.

"Maybe I should check it out myself?" said another who was a bit heftier himself, though much of it was muscle.

"I suggest you turn around and leave. You touch her and you'll regret it." Heylyn challenged the muscle bound meanie.

"You hear that boyz? She's going to fix me. Fix us." he stepped forward attempting to rock her backwards.

"None of you scare me. You leave now or you won't leave on your own feet." Heylyn warned them, a very intense look in her eyes like something else was trying to speak from within her.

The boy with the finger gun held up his imaginary gun to her face, his index finger pointing at her cheek. Heylyn's hand moved in a blur and no less than half a second later the boy was facing the other direction from the ground as she held his finger in one hand and his wrist in the other. He winced in pain.

"Nooo! Please stop! Uhhhh. You're going to break it you effing b..." he cried daring not to move.

The muscle bound boy advanced at Heylyn, swinging his fist at her. Heylyn's hand released the finger gun boy's wrist and moved with lightning speed connecting dead center of the muscle boy's chest. A moment later he was on the ground gasping for air.

The others backed up away from Heylyn and Alicia. The pimply faced boy looked at her with fierceness in his eyes.

"This ain't over yet." he said to Heylyn.

"Yes it is." the librarian said from behind them.

"Mrs. Stella. She tried to beat us..." the pimply faced by quickly changed his tone from one of anger and hatred to that of fear and pleading.

"I heard it from the other side of the library. I saw the whole thing on my way here. Are you alright Alicia?" Mrs. Stella asked.

Alicia nodded as she sobbed.

"Heylyn? Are you alright?" Mrs. Stella turned to the defensive Heylyn.

"Yes. I am more worried about Alicia. These bullies keep picking on her and nothing gets done about it." Heylyn explained the Mrs. Stella.

The muscle boy got up, rubbing his chest.

"What did you do to him?" Mrs. Stella asked Heylyn.

"He attacked, so I disabled him." Heylyn answered honestly.

"All of you will report to the principle's office first thing tomorrow. We're going to go over this and hand out punishments then and we'll be informing you parents of this. If you so much as lay a finger on these girls, I'll expel you myself for three days and phone your parents right now. Heylyn, you are never to attack anyone in anything less than self defense. You should know this as you're a registered black belt. We have to report this to the Police. Do you understand?" Mrs. Stella scolded Heylyn.

"Mrs. Stella, it was in our defense from a physical attack. I would never attack otherwise. I would only protect students from people like them. They didn't come here to read or learn. They came in here to pick on Alicia." Heylyn told Mrs. Stella honestly.

"You too could be expelled for this you do realize? Let the school take care of the security, not you." Mrs. Stella told Heylyn firmly.

"What if the school security isn't enough? Or isn't there? Am I supposed to let them push her, me and all the other students who come here to learn?" Heylyn asked her not backing down in her commitment to the issue at hand.

"We need to talk about this tomorrow in the principal's office. Now Billy, Zak and Tavy, get going. Now. You too Thad. You girls get cleaned up and go out the front exit. Stay clear of them and trouble. We'll sort this out tomorrow." Mrs. Stella ushered the boys out the front of the library and out of the school.

"I should get changed. Heylyn?" Alicia looked down at her feet which poked out from the black material that covered her custom Heylyn designed gown.

"Yes?" Heylyn asked.

"Thank you. Nobody has ever done that for me." Alicia told Heylyn as she wiped her eyes.

"We deserve it. We're just too hot to handle you know." Heylyn said putting her hand on her hip and flicking her other hand elegantly like a model.

Alicia laughed and giggled slightly still a bit uncomfortable about what had happened.

"That we are. I love the dress by the way." Alicia told her not noticing the two other boys that had approached them, again from behind.

"Ahem." one of the boys smiled, winking slightly at Alicia while the other gawked at Heylyn in amazement.

Heylyn turned and saw the two boys standing there peering at them both, all four unable to speak.

"Hi, I'm Matthew. From Mr. Trendal's geography class? This is Bret. We saw what happened with Billy and Tavy. You girls certainly put them in their place." Matthew introduced himself and his friend.

"We did. Didn't we." Heylyn put her arm around her friend standing beside her.

There was a moment's silence as Heylyn and Alicia looked back and forth at each other waiting for one to take the initiative.

"Hi Mathew. Bret. I'm Alicia and this is my best friend forever, Heylyn." Alicia introduced them.

"We just wanted to know if maybe you don't get kicked out of school for what you did to Tavy, if maybe you'd be interested in coming to the dance? I mean with us? Or can we come with you?" Matthew asked the two girls though looking at Alicia.

"What about you? Is that what you want?" Heylyn asked Bret with a sultry look on her face.

"You're beautiful. I'd like for us to go to the dance. Together if you'd like?" Bret asked of Heylyn who immediately blushed.

"...And I with you Alicia. Have I ever told you that I am amazed by how well you do in algebra?" said Matthew to Alicia.

"Yes. I'll go with you Bret." Heylyn told Bret as she blushed profusely and did everything she could to keep from giggling.

"No." Alicia answered.

Matthew looked down in disappointment.

"I mean no about the algebra. You've never told me that and...Yes. I'll go with you to the dance provided you pick us up at Heylyn's or my home." Alicia answered Matthew.

They spoke a moment longer and made arrangements to meet the next day for lunch at noon in the school cafeteria. Mathew and Bret said their goodbyes a little awkwardly leaving Alicia and Heylyn feeling very ecstatic and beautiful. Alicia quickly shuffled off to the bathroom to change remove the dress and put her regular clothes back on. Little did she know that it wasn't the first time that she'd feel so good about herself. Nor was it the first time that she'd have to change in a hurry.

As Alicia got changed, she thought about Sylvia's lesson from weeks before and suddenly understood. They had nearly gotten in trouble for the encounter with Billy and Tavy and possibly could have even ended up expelled had the situation progressed. Alicia had been in tears and in great emotional pain. Yet from that situation they had caught the attention of two boys who had admired them from afar and whom had decided to use that opportunity to break the ice with them. Sylvia was right. Sometimes you might lose in order to really win what you want.

Then Alicia had recognized something that she'd learned to apply just at the right moment when the boys had approached them to ask them to the graduation dance.

Confidence in herself and her best friend forever.

Sylvia's Second Lesson

The Principal peered at the collection of students in the office.

"I don't want to hear about this issue again. You are fortunate to still have a place in this school." the Principal pronounced boldly to those in the office who sat in chairs around his enormous desk.

Billy and Tavy looked down at their feet. Heylyn looked the Principal in the eyes with confidence and perhaps a bit of wisdom as did Alicia.

"Billy, Tavy. You are both dismissed from classes until three days have passed hence forth. I've already called your parents and notified them of the issues involved. You are not to show your presence on school property until the three days are over, upon which time you will return to the school on the... twenty third. From now on, you will no longer taunt, torment or in any way harass these girls or any other students of this or any other school, or any others might choose to victimize in such a manner. Do you understand?" the Principal's hand came down upon the desk like a gavel.

"Yes..." Billy said quietly mumbling something afterwards.

"I beg your pardon?" the Principal shot back.

"Yes!" Billy and Tavy said in unison.

"Zak. Because you chose not to attack in any physical manner, you are exempt from this punishment. However, I do know that you are the 'ring leader' that these two look up to. You will report to the detention class in room 101 every night for the next two weeks where you will do homework or if you don’t have any, you will be assigned math or literature exercises by Mr. Dekerr and graded for them as well. Consider this an opportunity to correct your path. When Billy and Tavy return, they will have the same opportunity. Am I making myself clear?" the Principal asked firmly.

"Yes!" Zak answered.

"Alright. Heylyn, if you have another physical altercation and are required to use force, the issue will be given the authorities as we have it on record that you are a registered black belt and should know better. You are not a hall monitor or school security. If you'd like to apply for hall monitor duty, your application would be more than welcome. Until then, no superhero antics. Are we clear?" the Principal held tone with her.

"Yes. I understand clearly but if I need to protect others from such behavior, I can't guarantee that I won't act in the interests of their protection, or mine." Heylyn said boldly but not defiantly.

"You need to examine other means to deal with such behavior from school bullies. Perhaps you should apply for hall monitor duty." the Principal suggested again.

"I'll consider that. As far as being victims of bullies goes, one can only back down so much and yield so far." Heylyn held her expression confidently.

"Be careful that you don't become what you seek to protect others from." the Principal said looking deep into Heylyn's eyes and perhaps beyond into the face of the dragon.

The same dragon that her Grandmother and Mother had told her had sprang from a cocoon that was built by the butterflies of a mythical field in an ancient fairy tale passed on from generation to generation by her family. The same dragon that was watching and listening at that very moment.

"I think that what Heylyn did was a good thing. She defended myself and the other students' interests. I stand by her decision to do so. If she was to be punished for that or for defending anyone else in the future against the same thing, then you must include me in that punishment as well." Alicia said wagering her good repute in support of Heylyn's actions.

"Alicia. You are a top grade student. I'd rather see you and Heylyn as an example of the combination of good attitude and effort rather than a pair of misguided heroes who threw their opportunities away chasing the wrong goals. We are here to learn and learn first. These decisions you make now will affect the rest of your life. Remember that years from now they'll be part of the weight upon your shoulders, believe me. I know. They might be the key to your success or if you go the wrong way, the weakness that others use to exploit you. You both undoubtedly have the talent to succeed and you might even do so if you lost out on schooling altogether. I guarantee that if you don't throw your opportunities away at this time of life, that you will succeed with this school as your ally. There are many different schools in life and they aren't always part of the education system. Don't throw this school away. That goes for all of you. You are all dismissed. Mr. Etters, could you prepare some late passes for Alicia, Heylyn and Zak to get back into class?" the Principal finished up, contacting the administration secretary.

"Sure thing. I'm on it." Mr. Etters came back over the intercom.

"That will be all. You're all dismissed." the Principal nodded and directed the students towards the door.

Alicia and Heylyn let Billy, Tavy and Zak leave first before leaving themselves. They filed out quietly and then a moment later Alicia stood followed by Heylyn as they found their way back to their classes.

"Well that went a lot better than it could have. Thanks for standing up for me Alicia." Heylyn smiled looking to her friend.

"You don't have to thank me for that. That's what friends are for. Besides, I wouldn't have unless I thought what you did was right. It would have been wrong for me not to." Alicia casually accepted her thanks.

"I'll see you at lunch. Remember our date. Meet me in the bathroom just down the hall from your class beforehand." Heylyn reminded Alicia.

"How could I forget that." Alicia said in all honesty, having been awake most of the night in anticipation.

Alicia filed off down the hall to her geography class while Heylyn went upstairs for world literature.

Alicia had been walking down the hall to her class when she passed a student volunteer for the library. He had been hauling a pile of retrieved library books on a trolley back to the library when one of the books caught Alicia's eye. Her mind had been on their lunchtime date with Matthew and Bret when the book's title Carrie, jumped out and caught her attention. It had been a book that she'd never read, though she'd caught a bit of the movie adaption on television last year though she could not remember what it was about. Instead she ignored the observation and continued on to class.

Her classes seemed to crawl by and the clocked seemed to stop once or twice while in class. She redoubled her efforts to keep her mind on class on off the lunch date. By the time 11:50 AM rolled around she had been casually reading as she'd finished her in class assignment early. Heylyn met her in the bathroom and they got ready together.

Alicia's experiences with makeup were few and mixed as she'd only worn it to family weddings and nowhere else. Alicia's face was shapely and naturally colorful with rosy cheeks and pink lips. Heylyn wore it in modest amounts to accent her eyes and lips as her features were more dramatic and contrasting. To her it was another form of expression and another palette upon which to speak the language or art and fashion.

"Can I? I'll give it a very light artist's touch. I promise." Heylyn offered.

Alicia looked in the mirror a moment and thought carefully.

"Alright, but I don't want to look really different." Alicia said confidently.

"Like the frame around a painting. Just to accent what's there already. Just like your graduation gown." Heylyn reassured her.

Heylyn took a small makeup kit out of her backpack and began applying a bit of blush, eye liner, lip gloss and a bit of lip liner to finish off. Heylyn stepped back and looked Alicia's face over carefully.

"Check it in the mirror. What do you think?" Heylyn asked her.

Alicia looked herself over and was very happy with what she saw. It was very light, very elegant and barely noticeable.

"I looks great! I like it. Thank you!" Alicia told her.

"It's placebo you know. It was already there." Heylyn winked at her.

"Look. If you get any more sweet, I'm going to hurl." Alicia said putting her hand on Heylyn's shoulder.

Heylyn burst out laughing as she packed up the makeup kit. They left the bathroom together nonchalantly to their lunch date. When they arrived in the lunch room, Matthew and Bret were already there waiting at an unoccupied table. Bret stood as they approached and Matthew followed his lead. Bret was shy but seemed to be very charming while Matthew took a more direct approach and missed many cues, though his intentions were nothing but good.

Many of the students in the cafeteria stopped to observe the situation as Alicia and Heylyn had their chairs pushed in for them by the two aspiring gentlemen. Matthew and Bret then sat down and pulled their lunches out and onto the table. They sat quietly unable to continue the momentum of their chivalry until one of the ladies spoke.

"So how was your day so far?" Alicia asked Matthew and Bret.

They looked at each other and laughed a bit.

"Oh, it has been interesting. There's been a lot of talk about you two around the school you know." Matthew said.

"Oh really? Like what?" Alicia asked listening intently.

"Oh, like how Heylyn is a dangerous girl. Someone even thinks you're undercover. Someone else thinks that Alicia is really working for the Principal's office trying to find out about the trouble spots in the school. It's bizarre." Matthew chuckled a bit.

"What about your day. How has it been?" Bret asked Heylyn though looking to both of the women.

Heylyn looked to Alicia, both blushing a bit.

"I'm definitely good. Everyone's been avoiding me like the plague, which is alright so far. Its much more peaceful anyway." Heylyn looked to Alicia.

"Yeah. It has been a bit different. Nobody has really been picking on me yet. A couple of people have even said hi to me that I didn't even know. Kind of like being a celebrity a bit I guess. Someone even asked me for help in class today. I helped them as best I could and that's been about it so far." Alicia told them.

All four laughed a bit uneasily looking around the room. Alicia looked at them and wondered momentarily if the boy's interest in them was some sort of attention fascination. Word of the confrontation had gotten around the school quickly and made them like stars of the school. Alicia watched them carefully to see where their attention was, whether it was on her and Heylyn, or the other checking to see which people in the lunch room were watching them.

Bret seemed to be wrapped up in Heylyn for certain and Matthew would look to her occasionally and then look around the room to other faces who would quickly turn back to their table. Alicia felt her heart sink a little as she thought: he doesn't even like me. It's just the notoriety of sitting with us after the situation yesterday. He just wants other people to see him eating with us.

Heylyn could sense Alicia's emotions and jumped in before they sank further. She spied Matthew's t-shirt which had the logo of a popular series that Heylyn knew Alicia like to watch on occasion.

"Alicia's a fan of that show too you know." Heylyn nodded to Matthew's shirt.

"Really? Yeah. I got this shirt from my older brother you know. I don't really watch it." Matthew replied to Heylyn.

Alicia's mood sank a bit deeper before she caught hold and decided that she wasn't going to sink any further.

"What shows do you watch?" Alicia asked Matthew.

"I watch action ones mostly. I like movies though. You know. Like superhero ones." Matthew looked to her waiting for her reply.

"Really? I read a lot of books. I read Sweet Severity and Evangeline Totem. I really liked Sweet Severity, though she's a bit extreme. She uses her detective skills to hunt down cold murder cases. She daylights as a lab assistant for the forensics unit and by night she hunts the murderers in those unsolved cases. She always solves them but leaves the evidence she uncovers for the crime unit officers to find. Then she brings the victims back to life in an alternate time-line. The murderers get caught and the victims get their lives back." Alicia said excitedly hoping they'd found some common ground.

"Wow. My cousins father works for the forensics unit out west." Matthew replied.

"Oh really? I like biology. I thought about pursuing forensics after reading those books, but I think that I want to go for research work and hopefully make a difference. Save a lot of people from an illness. Cancer. Muscular Dystrophy. Hodgkin Lymphoma. What about you? What do you want to do?" Alicia asked him.

Matthew looked around again then back to her.

"I don't know. I like CAD programs and I was thinking that I'd be a good car designer or maybe fabrication engineering. You know? I'm not sure." Matthew looked around again.

"What about you Heylyn?" Bret asked.

"I'm going to be a horticulturist. I'll probably start out landscaping first and then work my way up." Heylyn kicked Alicia's ankle lightly.

"You certainly have the health for it." Bret commented.

"That's nothing. Alicia's quite fit. We're training together. She's a slinky one. One day she's going to run circles around me." Heylyn told Bret and then looked over to Matthew and raised her eyebrows as if to say: wake up.

"I'm sorry. I am good with introductions but bad with words sometimes. I'm nervous. I think you're cute and I like you but I've got stage fright." Matthew said to Alicia leaning towards her and talking a bit more hushed than before.

Alicia thought about it and relaxed a little. Maybe he'd never been exposed to this much excitement before. It unnerved her being subject to this much attention but she enjoyed the fact that she'd been given reprieve from abuse and mistreatment on the basis of her body shape. Her mother had explained to her that in the renaissance of art, many of the painting subject of whom were women, had large hips and were smaller upstairs. Therefore society's perception of beauty was always in motion and that she shouldn't form her opinion of herself on that basis. Alicia's was a renaissance beauty in modern times.

Her sensitivity in such issues would often spark her fears which in turn would result in causing her to withdraw every time she had gained something new to lose, such as self esteem. She picked up her lower lip and answered Matthew.

"It's alright. I know how you feel a little bit. I'm very nervous about this too." Alicia relaxed letting a bit more of herself out from her shell.

"Don't think that she's a pushover or that you can just use her and throw her away. There's a tender heart in there. Be careful with it." Heylyn spoke at Matthew quickly recognized that Alicia had opened up a little too soon and stepped in to defend her opening.

"It's alright Heylyn. I trust him." Alicia came to Matthew's defense.

Don't you hurt her! Heylyn mouthed pointing her finger at Matthew.

He nodded in acknowledgment to Heylyn's demand.

The rest of their lunch went well and the conversation came easier once they had broached some of the nervous energy they'd felt earlier. By ten minutes before class, they finally started eating and they gorged their lunches, sharing with each other what they or their parents had prepared for them. Then it was back to class as usual and the lunchtime fervor died down and the rest of the day went peacefully. Alicia felt like she'd gotten a lot off her chest and when the bell rang at the end of the day, she quickly made her way to the senior's home to fulfill her volunteer duties and to meet with Sylvia.

Sylvia had arrived like clockwork and followed the exact same regimen she had every time since Alicia had first seen her. When she'd consumed her dinner she made her way back upstairs almost as if she'd not even noticed Alicia, though Alicia knew differently. She felt it.

Somewhere behind Sylvia's door the lock clicked, and it opened revealing a face pinched in a wedge of darkness.

"You're not with anyone are you? No spies or anything like that? Oh... come in." Sylvia answered her own questions and let down her guard long enough to let Alicia in.

"How are you..." Alicia tried to speak before she was cut off.

"Don't give me that mumbo jumbo. How have you been?" Sylvia shushed Alicia's inquiry.

"Fine. Well. Great actually. I met a boy." Alicia's face glowed.

"They're highly overrated until you get one landed and trained, let me tell you. Then they're kind of fun." Sylvia blurted out followed by short heckle.

"Do you like him?" Sylvia paused taking in the smile on Alicia's face before posing her question.

"I think I do. The truth is I don't know for certain. I like having him like me. Maybe I like him because he likes me and I think that I can't do any better? Am I wrong to think that? We clicked at first, and now we're not clicking. I don't know. I've always been afraid to like someone for the risk they wouldn't like me back." Alicia said to Sylvia who patted the seat of the chair beside her in invitation to Alicia who immediately sat.

"You're afraid to like him because if you do, it will make you vulnerable so its safer to question his motives than to examine your own feelings. You've never had anyone make an approach for you before. These are new feelings and its alright to question them but don't treat this like a chess game where each of you is trying to get at the feelings of the other first. How do you really feel? If you like him let him know but be sure. Also be prepared that he might not like you in the same way and that's alright because if that's the case, then you'll undoubtedly meet someone else until you are with someone who feels about you like you do them. You both know that if one of you reveals your feelings too soon that you'll be vulnerable and the other will have the upper hand. In the mean time you're ignoring your true feelings and needs. Once your confidence in yourself stays with you, you won't be afraid of the risks of having feelings for someone." Sylvia spoke from her lifetime's worth of experience in these matters.

"So by defending revealing my feelings, I am actually ignoring my feelings and trying to get his out of him first? So he'll be vulnerable and I won't. Meanwhile he's doing the same thing. So its just a big game we're playing." Alicia said thinking out loud.

"Exactly. But if your confidence would stay with you, you'd have no such worries because you'd know that someone out there values what you have to share, and finds you as beautiful as you really are. The only reason that you'll feel bad until that point is because you're afraid to be vulnerable and you're alone and you don't really have feelings for him." Sylvia assured Alicia.

Alicia thought on this and it really did make sense. She was only in a game with Matthew and their puppy love relationship seeking ways to gain power by getting the other to become vulnerable by exposing their feelings whether they had feelings for each other or not.

"So that's why Heylyn jumped to my defense! She knew what was happening and sought to make sure that Matthew didn't use my vulnerability. But what you're saying is that if we are just playing that game of trying to get the other to admit their feelings first, then we don't really care about each other or have feelings about each other at all. Being attracted and having feelings is about being able to reveal them without being afraid of rejection. That someone not liking you is not a be all or end all to your future relationships." Alicia observed astutely.

"Men. You can't get them trained if you're dancing around with them like that." Sylvia said with the edge of cynicism, leaving Alicia unsure of whether she was serious or not.

"You'll be thinking about that all night and for the next few days until it sinks in. You might even hurt a few times before your confidence and self esteem settles in for good. When it does and you're a bit older, such battles might even be fun with someone whom you're attracted to. But you need your self esteem first and foremost, because if you don't care about you, you might get talked into something you don't really want. Its easier to know that when you are confident in yourself." Sylvia told her quickly turning back to her book and jotting a quick note before quickly closing her note journal.

"Now, onto the real matters at hand. Did you see anything interesting today? Anything catch your eyes?" Sylvia leaned in close to Alicia squinting down with eyes inquisitively.

"Ummm... Wait. Yes. I did! I saw..." Alicia was interrupted by Sylvia's index finger held up to her face.

"No, no. Stop. Don't tell me. Was it part of a random occurrence. Something that could not be effected by human fabrication. Like flipping a coin or rolling dice. Something that you observed that could not have been set up for you to observe?" Sylvia asked her.

Alicia thought for a moment about her little observation and whether the library volunteer could have purposely arranged the books for the one she observed to stick out to her.

"No. It was definitely random and what I saw jumped out to me." Alicia said in all honesty.

"It has meaning to something or someone you've been in contact with, and is related to something that will happen in the near future or is related to something about one of those people in their past." Sylvia told her leaning in even just a little bit closer and leaving Alicia feeling unsettled.

"What. You mean its a coincidence?" Alicia asked her.

"No. It certainly is NOT just a coincidence. It is much more! It is your guide to something about someone you've recently dealt with, or something about yours or their future." Sylvia kept her close proximity to Alicia as Alicia attempted to retreat.

"Like mag..." Once again Alicia was cut off.

"No. That's just how it is. I don't know how. It just is." Sylvia told her without losing one iota of her intensity.

Alicia felt a chill pass over her entire body and she wondered if perhaps Sylvia had just gone off the deep end.

"Have you been alright Sylvia?" Alicia asked her in honest concern.

"Don't you patronize me young lady. You sound like them. You have to listen and you have to trust me!" Sylvia told her passionately.

Alicia fought with her mind's tendency to rule out such things as coincidence and purely a mathematical or logical oddity that could be predicted by probability. She thought about the situation and again gave Sylvia's observation more credence. Another possibility entered her mind. Sylvia could be displaying symptoms of Alzheimer's or another similar malady. Alicia took a moment to consider Sylvia's perspective. She was in her senior years, and trying to convey wisdom that she'd attained by experience. No doubt she'd earned her wisdom through hardships and now she had found someone with whom to share in hopes her experiences could make a difference. Many in the home probably treated Sylvia as an outcast already, discounting her formidable powers of observation. Others likely had done the same in Sylvia's life. Then whom was left to consider in honesty what she had to share without scrutinizing it or writing it off to dementia or an illness of the mind and age? How would she feel if she'd been written off like that when she called out to her parents about monsters being under her bed? Sylvia's experiences were real and had value to those who listened. Isolation and mockery by others would likely cause a lot of frailty to a person's ability to trust others not to mention oddities in their behavior. Alicia thought that she should know this first hand. She was not going to turn her away when she was the only person Sylvia had chosen to trust,

"Alright. I'll consider what you said. Definitely." Alicia said feeling the tingle of fear in her stomach like she'd stepped into another universe.

Alicia through the looking glass.

"Good. You remember that. And find your confidence. When you do don't lose it. Keep it! When you do you'll know when you really care about someone. Now get going. I have writing to do. You sleep well honey and don't hurt too much about this or any future puppy love you have. You've a whole lifetime of men to tame ahead of you." Sylvia reassured Alicia in her own way then turned to her journal and began writing furiously as if Alicia had already disappeared.

"You take care Sylvia. Thanks." Alicia said.

"Go!" Sylvia said once as she scrawled in her book.

Alicia left the senior's residence and began her trip home. She thought about the graduation dance but never made the connection between her premonition and Sylvia's warning.

A Dance Into Premonition

Alicia had been in the bathroom with her mother for some time already. Her mother had volunteered to do the bulk of Alicia's make-up before the dance.

Down the stairs, the doorbell rang and Heylyn's father and mother greeted Alicia's father.

"How do you do?" Alicia's dad held out his hand welcoming them both in.

"Very nice to meet you." they both came in followed by Heylyn, who smiled to Alicia's dad.

"Sorry, I had to make some last minute alterations to both our dresses." Heylyn frowned slightly.

"They're upstairs if you want to go up and see Alicia." Alicia's father directed Heylyn while he offered Heylyn's parents a hot drink.

Heylyn dashed up the stairs and gave a hug to Alicia's mother and then to Alicia.

Alicia's heart was pounding. This was her first time out to a dance or even with a guy. Her mother could sense her nervousness and did her best to calm her down.

"Here you go." Heylyn handed Alicia's finished dress to her.

"This is stunning! And you designed this Heylyn?" she asked.

"Yes and no. I designed it though our bodies make it look good. I can't take credit for that." she replied.

Alicia looked at the dress in awe.

"Put it on for crying out loud. Let's see you in it!" her mother spoke with huge grin on her face.

"Alright. Just give me a minute." Alicia closed the bathroom door even though she'd been wearing a slip.

"So how'd you do in class by the way? Did Alicia's tutoring help? I want to make sure you're getting a good deal here." her mother asked,

"Absolutely. I got a ninety-one average in biology and an eighty-seven in chemistry. I would have been so lost, especially during exams without Alicia's help." Heylyn said gratefully.

"That's great to hear. So everything went well for everyone." Alicia's mother smiled back.

A moment later and the door opened revealing a very stunning looking Alicia. An Alicia that would turn heads where ever she went.

"Oh now look here. You're getting tears on that nice make up." Alicia's mother quickly grabbed a light cloth and dried her eyes.

"Come on Alicia. Its not that bad looking! Is it?" Heylyn joked.

Alicia smiled, laughing through her tears.

"No, its worse." she replied and they all three laughed.

By seven o'clock Matthew and Bret had arrived, looking good in their own suits as well. They each had brought a corsage which they carefully carried into the house as they greeted the parents.

"Ai Yuanlin! You're dates are here!" Heylyn's mother yelled up the stairs to her daughter by her real name.

"What about my dates?" Alicia yelled back down in jest.

Heylyn's mother laughed profusely.

"Ai didn't leave any for you. You're going to have to take my husband!" she replied.

The parents shared a laugh and the room went quiet as the ladies made their entrance down the stairs.

Heylyn stepped down the stairs slowly, her toned legs perched atop low heeled low rise boots. Her gown, red hugged her legs from her knees upward with an opening that rose to her upper thigh. The the front was low cut but not too revealing, keeping her wrapped in a patterned design with embossed variations of the base red she'd used for the dress. The interesting part was on the back, a unique scarf that was attached to the dress by quick release clips, that when extended appeared like a butterfly's wings otherwise the scarf would wrap parts of her shoulder to her sides. Her hair was tied in a well crafted bun that complimented her gown well. A combination of the contemporary and the traditional.

She smiled as they clapped for her and took a few pictures. She quickly stepped out of the way grabbing her camera just as Alicia started down the stairs.

Alicia's gown was a deep rich purple, dark gray and with fringes of black material. The gray pieces of the gown were see semi translucent. The dress had an elongated heart shaped piece sewn from the translucent gray, leaving a heart shaped section of her front out to just before her navel and around to just before her spine on her back. The tip of the heart dipped down Alicia's right side revealing a portion of her hip and thigh with very little changes from Heylyn's original design. The base of the skirt has been changed to curve much more sharply and the curve was graduated into the slit for her leg, making it more revealing below the knee but none too much above the thigh. Alicia in her dress was the show stopper.

Everybody gave her an applause and she took it all in stride and remained humble, with a big smile across her face. She stepped forward Matthew gestured with her corsage. She approached him and he did his best to pin the corsage on her dress. Fortunately Heylyn had sewn a little safety feature into the dress, a hidden patch of layers to anchor a corsage onto that protected Alicia's delicate skin.

"You included armor to protect me from the corsage! You're awesome!" Alicia said aloud to Heylyn.

The group cheered as Matthew fastened her corsage and the room was once again alight with cameras. Bret pinned Heylyn's corsage on very carefully with no damage to the Heylyn, the dress, or himself. Once again there were pictures taken and before long they were out the door and into the limousine they're parents had hired to deliver them to the dance, which was to take place at the ballroom of the famous Precipice Hotel.

The trip to the hotel was different as they'd never been in a limousine before. There was bottled water for them and of course Matthew had joked about finding something to drink. The limousine had been cleaned and inspected before the trip and was alcohol free given the nature of the trip.

The limousine stopped and the driver let them out just outside of the ballroom entrance. Alicia and Heylyn were escorted by their gentlemen into the ballroom. Many people who had not otherwise known Alicia had come up to her and addressed her.

"You look beautiful!" they'd say or "Gorgeous!" and both her and Heylyn even got the occasional cat call.

Inside of the ballroom it was dark with intense lighting and a large sound system driving the whole party. There was a table set up for punch and other drinks and juices and a table for crackers and finger foods. Heylyn heard one of the faster dance songs that she'd loved and she grabbed Alicia's hand and dragged her out to the dance floor. Matthew and Bret stood on the side lines for a moment before getting over the nervousness of whether dancing would affect their masculinity impression.

Bret stepped out onto the dance floor and joined Alicia and Heylyn and eventually before long Matthew did the same. Before long, a small crowd had formed around them on the dance floor and they'd had their own circle. Alicia had enjoyed dancing though she'd only tried it once. After having done it in her custom Heylyn Yates designer series gown, Alicia was drawing a crowd of admirers and it seemed that she was a natural. Heylyn benefited from her martial arts training when it came to dancing, though she likely would have loved to dance either way.

After about six songs on the dance floor, they stumbled to the punch table for a break.

"That was awesome!" Bret said wiping his forehead still alive with energy.

"I loved that so much! I've never done that." Alicia said as she poured a drink for her date and then one for herself.

"Doesn't look that way. You dance very well." Bret complimented her.

"I'd say you were a natural born dancer!" Heylyn said to her friend.

"You're definitely a sight for the dance floor!" Bret said to Heylyn.

"You're not so bad yourself." she slinked up to him getting a little close.

"You look really good tonight Alicia. Really good." Matthew said to Alicia trying to get her attention.

Alicia looked at him unsure of what to do, so he tried to take the next step and got a bit closer to her.

In the other corner of the ballroom, Billy, Tavy and Zak watched carefully as their quarry got used to one another.

"Alright. We're just about ready for this. Sent the text." Billy told Zak, who mass mailed a message from his phone.

"The word is out. Next we just need the pix. Tavy, get ready." Zak responded.

Tavy began his casual walk to the four unsuspecting patrons of the dance.

At that moment, Alicia's cellular got a text message. She pulled it from a cleverly concealed flap which her purse was fastened to, so that she did not have to carry her purse. The flap on the gown could either cover the purse or leave it exposed as a part of the design.

Alicia read the text message:

"Leesha! they r going 2 set u or ur friend up. be careful!"

Alicia put kept the phone out and looked around, suddenly feeling very distrustful and cautious.

"What is it?" Matthew asked.

"Nothing. Let's get going somewhere else outside." Alicia told Matthew.

The floor around them began to get crowded with people, many of them seemed to have their phones out.

Bret and Heylyn were getting close, just as he saw Tavy approaching.

Tavy reached out for Heylyn's dress, getting a hold of it. He then struggled to pull her top down. The dress was resilient and held even under the efforts of this brute to expose her body. Bret jumped around to the other side and dove onto Tavy who lost his grip on her dress.

Alicia immediately came running around the other side of Heylyn, who fixed her dress, which had shifted slightly as a result of Tavy's effort.

Matthew in the mean time ran for help, looking for one of the security staff.

"Are you alright honey?" Alicia asked her best friend.

"Yes, I'm alright. That #$%@ should be grateful that I didn't see him coming." Heylyn commented turning around the see Bret thrown to the ground by the much bigger Tavy.

A moment later three large security guards came in to see Tavy sitting on Bret delivering a series of punches.

The security grabbed Tavy, who claimed it was Bret that tried to remove her dress. The security guards picked up Bret as well and began taking them both away when Alicia ran up to the third guard and handed her phone to him.

"Look at this." she said, playing the video she'd caught of Tavy clearly trying to pull Heylyn's dress off.

"Can I get a copy of that? Send it over to the sectionsecurity@subnet.precipicehotel if you can." the security guard ran and caught up with the one carrying Bret.

A moment later Bret was released and asked for his name and telephone number.

He returned to Heylyn's side.

"How are you babe?" he asked her.

"My hero." she winked at him giving him a gentle kiss.

"Awe. It was nothing." he said bashfully.

"How did you know?" Heylyn turned and asked Alicia.

"I got a warning message. Looks like Billy, Tavy and Zak were out to get us. They were going to try to get a picture of one of us without our top and then text it to everyone. So the group they sent the messages to warned me and showed up to get a video of him trying. That's what they're going to send to everyone, including the authorities Along with the message that Billy and Zak sent before they tried." Alicia explained.

"Well how's that for instant justice?" Bret asked Heylyn.

"I still have my three super heroes to thank for saving me!" Heylyn spread her arms giving Alicia, Bret and Matthew a hug.

"Yes and its a good thing that you make such sturdy clothing." Alicia said.

"Yes. Only preplanned wardrobe failures available with my clothing." she said laughing out loud.

"And a kiss for you..." Heylyn said delivering a warm kiss upon Bret's lips.

Alicia looked awkwardly to Matthew for a moment before she took the initiative and pressed her lips upon his. It was her first kiss and despite it beginning a little awkwardly it slowly began to feel like heaven. When the moment was getting hot and heavy for her she withdrew from him.

"I could get used to that..." she said her eyes distant and longing.

Moments later they returned to the dance floor as a group and spent the rest of the night dancing.

Heylyn and Alicia remained together as best friends with their dates. That night was a night that neither would ever forget and though time might separate them, they were never too far apart to forget one another.

Sylvia's Last Visitor

A week later Alicia knocked on the door of her favorite person in the seniors residence.

A moment later the door opened and Sylvia stood at the door.

"Well. It looks like my little dance queen has arrived." Sylvia left the door open and went to her chair and sat down looking a little tired.

"How'd you know?" Alicia asked her.

"Word gets around quickly you know." Sylvia told Alicia.

"It happened just like you said it would. I got the warning when I noticed that book. It was a book about a bunch of students who attempt a practical joke against a telepathic girl at her school prom. It happened much like that for us too, but we were ready when I pieced it together at the dance. We caught the culprits and afterwards, I was voted the Queen Of The Graduation Dance. So it was all predicted exactly how you said." Alicia said with a big smile,

"Well I wasn't lying you know. You'll miss more than you find though and you'll rarely know to recognize them. Remember that." Sylvia jotted something else in her journal then looked quickly back to Alicia.

"Just one more thing dear then I'm going to have to kick you out because I have been a bit tired." Sylvia told Alicia.

"Alright." Alicia replied.

"I used to be a researcher before I developed an allergy to a variety of chemicals we used to conduct our research. From there, things kind of went haywire for me. One of the things that I used to study was compound proteins and their effective use in the rebuilding of muscle tissue. Specifically that of the heart. I used to spend hour after hour trying different combinations of amino acids, trying to perfect the process with no avail. Everything that I tried with a beaker and a test tube would have little affect at the regeneration rate of these heart muscle tissues, Then one day while conducting my experiments, I had left some music on playing in the background. It was Brahms if I remember correctly. Lovely piece it was. I had set the experiment up and was waiting for the results which would often take hours before you could measure. I took a look at the tissues and found they'd grown eight times what they had in previous experiments. I struggled to figure out what had caused this little change and could not duplicate until I had turned on the music once again. Of course this time it was a much different piece, but soothing nonetheless. I tried the same experiment and it yielded that same results. An improvement of eight times in the regrowth of heart muscle tissue when it was stimulated by our protein compound and by nothing more than beautiful music. I struggled with this idea many times throughout the course of my career which was short by any means but a dedicated one nonetheless. I tried music that I liked. Music that I didn't like. Sound that wasn't music at all but just irritating noises. In every experiment that I found where the experimenter's relaxation and calmness was affected positively by music so was the results of the experiment just as it was negatively affected by things that irritated us. Those kinds of results are often not the ones that a company wants to hear, because they immediately think placebo effect. But placebo effect upon the cells of a completely different organism?" Sylvia yawned as she struggled to stay awake.

"Then what was it if it wasn't placebo effect?" Alicia asked very interested in the story.

"Well. I think no matter how much we try not to have an effect upon what we try or what we do, that we do have an effect and this effect is reflected and amplified by what you like and don't like or even your intent and point of view. If you don't like doing a particular thing all of the time, chances are that sooner or later it will kill you, or you'll break something required to do it. I think that it comes down to two things. Whatever you choose to do for a living, make sure that it drives you to do it, and that you love it. It will reflect in your work and therefore the reward you receive for doing it and in the end, your health and happiness. Secondly, there is something about art in some way shape or form, or the way that it affects us that helps things to live and grow and it can be affected by the art itself. I don't know how that works or where it comes from. It might very well be built into the universe whether you believe it was created by a God or whether we got here by the Big Bang, either way it seems to work like that. So love whatever you do for a living and get yourself away from things or people that affect you badly. Remember that there is something in art that drives us all and keeps us in touch with our concept of beauty. If you work in the sciences, make sure that art is a healthy part of your life. It will help your research. Now get lost. I have to sleep." Sylvia said sounding somewhat more cranky than usual.

"Sylvia, Before I go, I have a gift for you." Alicia waited for Sylvia's acknowledgment.

"Alright. Make it quick." Sylvia said sitting on the edge of her bed.

"I'd like you to have this." Alicia pulled a little box from her knapsack and handed it to Sylvia.

"Now whatever could this be?" Sylvia asked as she opened it.

She spied Alicia's corsage from the dance.

"I can't accept this. This is from your dance, isn't it?" Sylvia asked.

"Yes you can. I want you to have it. To remember me by." Alicia told Sylvia giving her a hug.

"I also want you to know that I've decided to pursue my dream of becoming a scientific researcher. I'm going to focus on degenerative disorders and genitics and branch out from there into quantum biology. I wanted you to know that I was ready to give up on my dreams and that I never would have made that decision if it wasn't for yours and Heylyn's help. I'll never forget you. Either of you." Alicia said to Sylvia her eyes welling with tears.

"Well for all it's worth Alicia, you've had a great effect upon my meager life here in this lost corner of the world. So you could say that we helped each other. Now let me do something with your corsage." Sylvia replied to Alicia handing her a box of tissues.

Sylvia took it and put it in her fridge.

"That will keep it fresh. I'm tired. Now go!" Sylvia barked at Alicia who scuttled out the door and down the street.

She decided to walk home that evening making it nearly to her house before she heard the ambulances and fire trucks being dispatched to take Sylvia to the hospital. Alicia thought nothing of the sirens and continued home.

Alicia made it home and slept soundly that night after talking to her friend Heylyn on the phone.

"Heylyn." Alicia said.

"Yes Alicia." Heylyn replied.

"I'm glad that I have an artistic friend like you. I never would have decided to follow my dreams if it weren't for you. Thanks for everything. This has been the best year of my life." Alicia told her.

"There will be more and even better ones to come. Trust me. Good night sweetie." Heylyn responded.

"Good night." Alicia replied hanging up the phone.

"Good night Sylvia." Alicia said turning over in her bed.

On the other side of the community in the intensive care unit lay a solitary occupant in a bed. She was on a respirator and struggled to breath.

Even over the sound of the respirator she could be heard.

"Good night Alicia." Sylvia said as she took her last breath.


Heylyn years later had graduated from the Fashion Design and Graphic Arts programs of the College of Art. At twenty two Heylyn had become a beautiful and talented woman much like Alicia whom she thought of often. Their schooling paths had led them in two very different directions and as a result they'd see less and less of each other as the years passed. When Heylyn turned twenty four she'd finished her first designs for a complete line of clothing. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Casual, Evening and Formal wear as a complete and interrelated design. Her crowning achievement to date. She'd managed to find sponsorship through a clothing manufacturer and with their help had managed to show her entire line during one of the most attended events. It was at the show where she'd met her first serious lover.

He'd been at the show admiring her work from one of the second row seats. The show had kept his eyes until they fell upon her and from there he could not keep them from her. This beautiful and mysterious woman whose figure was muscular and fit and yet she found time to design an entire line of clothing and present it at one of the years biggest presentations. His curiosity was peaked and it was not until the party after the show that he'd waited for an opening to get a moment of her time.

“Heylyn Yates? Brad Leeman from Fashion Online Weekly. I couldn't have a moment of your time?” he asked her pouring the charm on.

“It's pretty a busy night for me but I think that I can spare a moment.” she replied to him enticed with his appearance.

“Would I be pushing it if I asked for two or even three?” he pushed her a little.

“Let's start with two for now. You'll have to earn the third.” she replied opening the metaphorical door a little for him.

“This was your first big show?” he asked her.

“Yes. I've had a few smaller appearances at some other venues but this one certainly gave my line the most exposure. For certain.” she nodded in agreement.

“Do you have any heroes?” he asked her.

“I'm sorry. I don't catch you?” she replied.

“You know. Heroes of your own. Anyone that you look up to?” he asked her.

“Most certainly. My parents for sure. They're big heroes. My best friend from high school Alicia. My design teachers. In the fashion world? Chrystiana Garriet. Her work in pastel shades for the back ground while using a vibrant foreground is just amazing to see in clothing. She's pioneered the concept of depth of field in clothing with colors for certain. Galeo Melvani. A lot of great contour in his work. He really likes the human form and body. Curves and round shapes.” Heylyn said thinking about those who'd inspired her.

“Speaking of curves, how do you keep yours? Do you work out? You look a little more fit than average.” Brad asked her.

“Well yes. I do a little bit of calisthenics. Stretches maybe. Why, do I look a little off to you?” she asked him somewhat playfully.

“No. No. Not at all. You're definitely on. A lot on.” he replied a bit taken aback.

“And what about you Brad? Tell me a little bit about yourself.” she asked him trying to get a peek at his life.

“Nobody has ever asked me. Well I'm a writer. I like people though more one on one than in crowds. I'm like a photographer though my camera is a pen. Or my computer keyboard. My developing gear is my word processor and the blogs that I write for. My post work is my prose. I guess I really like pointing my proverbial camera at other people a lot. Get a picture of what I admire about them. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. It's always honest nonetheless.” he replied honestly to her.

“I think we just got to moment three.” Heylyn responded to him liking what she'd heard thus far.

“So does that mean my time's up?” Brad asked her backing up a little.

“No. It means that we'll have to continue moment three over dinner at my place. Say next Friday night?” she proposed to him still managing to maintain a shy and demure posture.

“Alright. That sounds good. Drink? Dessert? What should I bring?” he asked her.

“You pick out our wine or a liqueur. Something to go with seafood and rice or noodles. I'll pick up dessert. Be at my place at eight. Here's my address.” she handed him a card with her address.

“So all that talent and you cook too? So do I and I love to cook for a woman. For a special woman that is.” he replied.

“Well that's good to know. If we get to moment four then you'll be cooking the dinner after this one. Let's just start with this one first and see how it goes. I take it there's no special women in your life right now?” she asked him.

“I just filled out my first application in a long time. I'll let you know how it went on Friday night.” Brad replied.

“Please do. I can't wait to hear. I hope she's worth all the effort.” she said playfully.

“She most certainly is.” Brad replied as another couple approached Heylyn demanding her time and attention.

Heylyn waved to him and disappeared back into the party and schmoozing.

Brad spent the rest of the evening interviewing some of the other guests and asking what they'd thought about her show. Two of his interviewees were the purchasing directors for some major clothing firms. He took the liberty of doing some advertising for her.

“That was one of the shows I've seen for some time. She's got a great future ahead of her if she keeps that kind of momentum up.” Mr. Pennesta, the purchasing director of Fine Line Clothing, told Brad in conversation.

“I'd have to say that I agree with you on that note.” Lloyd Barnes, the purchaser for Pageant Clothing agreed with Mr. Pennesta.

“Mr. Pennesta? Mr. Barnes. You know that I heard that she's looking for a distributor to take her line to the next level. She's dedicated to bringing this line and many future designs in her portfolio to the marketplace. In face I heard that she's in negotiations with another company right now for exclusive distribution rights.” Brad told them truthfully dropping the hint at the right time.

“She doesn't want to go exclusive. Not this early in the game. She should be looking for open contract deals that allow multiple retailers to carry her brand and grow it from there. Its definitely good for her and for the retailers as well. She'd be visible in more places at once and that could hit big for walk-in sales too. I'll go talk with her and maybe we can strike something up.” Mr. Pennesta told Brad.

“Let's go see her now while there's a chance. Thanks for the tip Brad. You tell that lovely editor of yours that she's got a wonder staff.” Mr. Barnes responded walking with Mr. Pennesta to get some time with Heylyn while she was between conversations.

“Now that's serendipity. You can thank me later sweetheart. I hope it works out for you.” Brad said to himself quietly.

Dinner Date

There was a knock on the door of Heylyn's town home. She opened the door to find Brad dressed in a stylish shirt and slacks. He brandished a flowering plant in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other.

“Here you go. Something for your home. Let's hope it grows healthy and happy.” Brad handed her the plant.

“How thoughtful of you. Come in.” she welcomed him into her home with a peck on his cheek.

He stepped in taking a look at her attire. She wore a tightly fitting dress, one of her designs with blouse of semi translucent material with an opaque bra piece that was very alluring without cheapening her natural beauty.

“You look beautiful tonight. Much the same as always.” he commented removing his shoes.

“Thank you. Just a design from last year's show.” she replied.

“The one you did at the University? Right? For their theater arts program.” Brad confirmed.

“Right you are. You certainly do your homework don't you.” she answered.

“Only when I'm dating beautiful and talented fashion designers.” Brad replied.

"Are you saying that you're a pluralist?" she asked him placing her hands delicately on his sides.

"A pluralist? No. Rhetorical? Maybe." he replied putting his hands on her waist.

"Does that mean I'm the only fashion designer you're dating?" she inquired of him.

"It means you're the only person I'm dating. It's been a while since I last dated." he replied.

She hugged him and gave him a kiss on his cheek.

“Thanks for accepting my invitation.” she said rubbing his arm before proceeding up the stairs to the main landing.

“So this is my place. Its not much to look at right now but its home.” Heylyn showed him the living room which was connected to the kitchen in an open concept.

"Nice. Almost what I expected. A nice place with a little bit of clutter that naturally accompanies an active mind like yours." he said admiring the decor.

They spent the rest of the evening talking while she prepared their succulent dinner, a wok fried stir fry of vegetables, scallops, chestnuts, bamboo chutes with dim sum on the side. They shared the bottle of sparkling wine that Brad brought to dinner for them and finished up with a light desert of yoghurt cake.

“So tell me, what really drives you? I mean you said you like martial arts. You've obviously spent a great deal of time training. What level have you achieved?” Brad asked her.

“That part's complicated. You see the three styles I study are based upon three different origins but most had come from the idea of farmers and the Imperial court of the time developing a system of martial arts that utilized farming tools and implements as weapons so that they could hold off an attack conducted against them by armed soldiers. It was developed to an art form and perfected over the course of many centuries. Legends are that it originated from the spirits of the wild and that every technique draws from such spirits. There are legends that tell of such martial artists though long before the first guards and farmers trained their militias. In Kung Fu I'd be considered a Master Student which is a nice way of saying the ranking student of a school. In Tae Kwon Do I'd be considered similarly, a black belt double red stripe. In Karate Do Goju Jujitsu Ryu I'd be considered a fourth dan black belt. That's seventh kyu and four levels of mastery. Does that make it any easier?” Heylyn explained to Brad.

"That's pretty impressive. You certainly didn't waste any time." he smiled to her.

"It doesn't make you nervous does it?" she asked him with a slightly piercing look.

"What? You mean being a capable Woman? Not in the slightest. I don't define my masculinity by the ability to subvert others. Especially Women. I was going to ask you if it bothers you dating someone like myself who is somewhat of an underachiever? Comparatively speaking of course." he returned her look though punctuating it with a coy smile.

"Well if we were going to... get serious at any time in the future... hypothetically speaking of course... the first thing you'd have to do away with is career comparisons between us. So get that thought out of your mind. I like to work alone and in sprints of two or three hours every hour or two. Kind of like you? Maybe? I'm in charge of my life and my time. I'm not a very experienced relationship kind of person but I could say that sometimes I like to be in charge... and sometimes I like to let someone else do the driving." she spoke as he poured another glass for them each.

"You are certainly bold and I guess that's why you're a rising star in the fashion world. I'm not the kind of guy who makes plans but I do stick to my commitments. Especially in matters of the heart. I'm more the intuitive type so let's just see where this goes. If it does go somewhere I'm hoping you won't hurt me?" he said a bit more quietly.

"You do realize that you're dating a registered black belt? Three times over." she said to him looking like the cat who ate the canary.

“You're saying that I should be very careful about getting to first base and especially careful about second.” he said inching a little closer to her.

“Most certainly. But be ever so wary about getting to third base and never on a first date. Trying for a home run would most certainly be deadly. That's of course considering I've only known you from the two times we've met. The rules might be a bit different if we'd known each other longer. So let's get to know one another first.” she said to him.

"I agree whole heartedly."  he moved closer as their lips met in a tender kiss

He left that night at just the right time considering this was the second time he'd met her in person and it was still only their first date. It was by their third date that they'd consecrated their attraction for one another as it had graduated to the level of love.

Life And Changes

Heylyn had never felt better in life and was full of an ongoing positive energy and motivated by the fact that she felt like she'd met her soul mate. The year two thousand and one was a positive year for her and she'd seen a lot of growth in her life. She was already an independent Woman and her sense of self esteem did not require constant reinforcement though it certainly came often from his direction in little ways. He was most often busy during the day with his writing while his nights he'd spend with her.

She'd even invited him into the private design room of her town home where she asked his opinion on some of her designs. He gave constructive feedback and admiration which quickly earned her respect even more. It wasn't long before she would keep her design room door open in the evenings. Sometimes while they were curled up on the sofa she'd get up and quickly try out another design element to something she was working on. He'd smile and sometimes take the cue and do a little writing. Occasionally she'd invite him in and they'd work on her design together or if she'd returned before he'd stowed his laptop, she'd read his writing and give her own feedback. From the standpoint of an artist their professional lives had somehow managed to intermingle without becoming impeding.

His writing gigs were few and he was often forced to work using his technical skills rather than his penmanship. During their first year together and at their January anniversary was when he'd told her about the important career opportunity he'd been offered.

“It's for a book project. Multi-author. Seven of us will be touring Europe and Asia and documenting life, art and fashion along the way. It's going to take more than a year for the whole project but its big. The biggest thing that I've worked on as a professional. Sponsored by several magazines and quarterlies in the fashion world.” Brad had announced.

“That's amazing. I'm happy for you. Very happy.” Heylyn told him honestly.

“The problem is that's a long time, too long to be without you.” Brad leveled with her.

“We can stay in touch in that time. I can wait a year. We can stay in touch on our phones and the internet. I'd be willing to fly out to meet you for a weekend if you'd be willing. I could probably do so on short notice too. A new romantic environment where we could spend some time together.” Heylyn asked him.

“To tell you the truth I was a bit afraid to tell you. A year is a long time to ask someone to wait for you.” he told her rubbing her hand.

"Not when it's a matter of the heart." she responded touching the heart shaped butterfly dragon pendant her Grandmother had given her.

"Honey. Thank you. You don't know what a relief it is to hear that." he said to her pulling her closer.

“I've got an idea. Why don`t you put some music on and pour us some wine. You know, get the mood just right and we could start making up for the lost time right now.” she said running her fingers up his chest before planting a tender kiss on his lips.

He smiled and did as she suggested while she went into the bedroom to change into more comfortable and seductive attire. When she returned they spent the evening in playful conversation, close dancing and passionate kisses. They spent the night making love until the sun just crested the horizon and the birds had began to announce its arrival. They fell asleep in each other's arms and remained intertwined until they awoke in the late afternoon six hours later.

Three months later and Heylyn accompanied Brad to the airport as he left for the first leg of his book tour. They kissed passionately for as long as they could until the last moments when he had to leave. The other authors scheduled to accompany him for the tour urged him on so he'd not miss the flight. She stood and watched him as he made his way onto the boarding ramp. The big 767 departed on schedule and she flagged a taxi from the airport back which took her back to her town home on the other side of the city.

Their first phone calls to one another were long and went on for hours, even sitting in silence just knowing that the other was there on the other end. They'd even fallen asleep the first few times without hanging up only to awaken the next day to find their connecting was still open and they'd even wake up together with a groggy "Good morning sweetie" and "I miss you". They'd kept in close contact and despite the distance between them they still felt very much together. It was not until the second month that Heylyn did not receive a call from Brad at their scheduled time that she began to worry. An entire day had passed before she'd heard the news on the television.

“An airliner has been taken hostage by an extremist group calling themselves the C'aan R'uum. We've been told they've forced the airliner to an early landing where it is surrounded by Police and Officials as the hostage takers discuss their demands. A hundred and eighty passengers have been affected by this hijacking and are now hostages of the group whose demands have not yet been disclosed.” the report blared over the television at Heylyn's workplace First Studios where she worked as a designer.

“That was the flight that Brad was supposed to take from Pakistan to the southern reaches of China.” Heylyn told her coworker putting her hand to her mouth as her eyes teared heavily.

“Local Police are arranging for the safety of the passengers… Wait. We have reports of heavy gunfire coming from inside of the aircraft… This is horrible! There seems to be...” the reporters voice was cut short as the camera fell over sideways.

“Alan! Alan! Oh my god he's been shot! Somebody get a...” the reporter's voice was again cut off.

“Ladies and Gentlemen there seems to be a serious altercation between Police and the insurgents. We've just received a report that a bomb has gone off on-board the aircraft. There are numerous reports of gunfire from inside of the aircraft that has been returned by Police. This is a tragedy. We're waiting for another feed.” the news anchor told the audience as the camera image switched back to the airport.

“We are seeing the aftermath of what looks to be an attempt by the anti-terrorist task force to board and take the plane. A small bomb has gone off as you can see by the damage on the fuselage. There seems to be many injured and dead including cameraman Alan Sepps of our affiliate station.” the on scene reporter continued his coverage of the story.

Another coworker shut the television off.

“Hey! I was watching that!” someone from the studio yelled.

“Have a heart!” the seamstress yelled back as she consoled Heylyn.

“I'm alright. Really.” Heylyn wiped her eyes pulling herself together.

She marched into her manager's office and told her that she needed to leave for the day. The manager quickly granted her request. Heylyn immediately called around trying to find out where she could get an accurate list of the dead. She got little in the way of information about it though she didn`t give up looking. She went to the Pakistani Consulate and pleaded with them for an hour before she gave up and left returning home instead to wait by her phone keeping the remote hope that Brad might call.

He never did.

A week later she received the list of dead. She scanned it carefully and when she found his name she put the list down and went upstairs to bed and cried. She didn't leave her bedroom for five days from that point, drinking only water and staying in silence.

She vowed that from that moment she'd never love again. It was as if some cruel force of the universe had ripped her wings and heart from her being. It took a long time for her to forgive the forces at work for taking him from her in such a way. In her sleep she tried to return to the field looking for the great Butterfly Dragon that she'd helped to protect during her childhood, but it didn't answer her cries. It was as if it had abandoned her altogether. To her it seemed like the universe had conspired to destroy her only chance at happiness with a partner. A guy who did not feel threatened by her cultural difference from him, her unique physical capabilities and her ambition. She only hoped that he didn't suffer at the hands of the kidnappers. She thought often about what she would have done had she been there with him. How she would have taken them out each of them one at a time until there were none. She'd felt frustrated that with all of her unique abilities and training that there was nothing that she could do.

By the time the authorities had pieced together the whole story, it had come down to four insurgents. Three men and one woman who'd taken the aircraft with a bomb and guns they'd somehow managed to get onto the plane. Outside of the aircraft on the tarmac other insurgents were hidden amongst the onlookers and when the anti-terrorist units attempted to breach and retake the plane, the insurgents started killing hostages and returning fire against the Police and other bystanders. Even in Heylyn's city there had been a link with sympathizer groups who operated from the domestic center. A huge investigation had begun to uncover the nature of this threat even on home soil. They'd targeted the plane for the presence of a former political dignitary and the abundance of North American passengers. For the media buzz it would create for them and their cause. Ultimately what Heylyn did not know was that it was all part of a much bigger game being played by a mysterious industrialist and a subordinate he'd had in Heylyn's home city.

When she did finally retrieve herself from her darkness she focused on work and her martial arts. Practicing harder and more aggressively than she had ever before. She withdrew and to some that was a sign that she was done with the business. Instead she decided that she was only starting. 

She'd procured a deal with four high quality garment manufacturers and from those deals she built her own fashion design company, West Meet East International. By the time she'd founded her company and leased the building her wings had begun to heal though her heart would still take a few years. In that few years Heylyn Yates aka Ai Yuanlin Ying would become a hardened Woman.

Continue to Act II: Old Friends United