We didn't dally in the alcove, fearful of being caught again by someone walking by. My heart still raced from our first kisses and my extreme reaction to them. I recalled fumbling kisses by suitors over the years, but nothing stirred me as deeply as Willow did; even from a simple glance. I followed silently behind Willow as she led me methodically through the Institute. She introduced me to her world in typical Willow fashion; full of exuberance and detail. I took it all in with complete fascination. I had no need to comment; Willow filled the silence with soliloquies on any topic I could imagine.
On the first floor of the Institute, the only room she lead me to was the Library, which we had toured very briefly before. This time, however, she lead me to a small desk near a bookshelf in the back of the room. Underneath the desk, suspended by a small hook, hung a key. The key opened a hidden room whose door was behind a tapestry of President Thomas Jefferson. On the door, a small gold plaque read 'I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.'
"Do you know that he was only thirty three years of age when he drafted the Declaration of Independence? He was a hero to my Grandfather and Father. It was so like them to see only good in people Tara. You remind me of him; very much."
I smiled at Willow, both in awe and excitement. Her knowledge, her love of history, her unbounded enthusiasm; all these things simply amazed me. I'd never been in the company of a woman like her. She was perfect. She then inserted the key into the lock and opened the door, which swung slightly inward. The space behind it was dark and small, but it smelled wonderfully of old books.
Willow gestured for me to step inside. There was only room for one person in the room, which I can now tell was formerly a closet, yet Willow followed behind me and pressed herself into my back with her chin resting on my shoulder. The tapestry fell to cover us where we stood and Willow lean to her right to light one of her ingenious lamps. She spoke into my ear lovingly, her breath brushing my ear and neck which caused me to shiver and lean back into her as we looked about the dim space.
"These are all my father's secret books. He showed them to my brother and I when we reached our sixteenth year. We keep them for the young women when they reach the same age. They help them learn the world. We've made copies of some of them for classes, but most of these are originals, so you have to be very carefully with them."
Willow reached around me, her arm both cradling my waist and grasping for a book on a middle shelf, which she handed to me silently.
"Deviant Sexual Behavior in Women" I read in a whisper.
"It's Harris' favorite book," Willow laughed. "My Mother and Father... well how should I put this? They weren't shy in their affection for each other. My Father always disagreed with the notion that sex was only a duty to be performed by a man for procreation."
"So this is a book about sex?" I gasped. I had read basic medical texts about conception, but sex was never referenced in my family or from my Father; though he was a scientist by practice.
Willow then snuggled more closely into my back, wrapping her arm securely around my waist. "To some extent," she spoke into my ear again "but it is more so about the nature of sexuality in Women. The author meant it as a derogatory book, but when you read it you'll notice that it is very educational. It even talks a bit about methods of preventing pregnancy. We've extracted that chapter for one of our health classes."
I could feel Willow smile against my neck and it made me smile as well. "I didn't know such a thing could be done Willow. This is amazing. You are amazing!"
Willow spoke again into my ear, her voice lower and raspy. "There is a chapter about us in there as well Tara."
"About us? I don't understand."
I really did not get her meaning. I turned slightly to look at Willow, waiting for an explanation. She reached down to take the book from my hands. With both arms wrapped around me now, she opened the book to it's seventh part and read it aloud to me.
"Of the Intimate Contact Between Women for Sexual Gratification."
I stared at the text, it lines blurring before my eyes.
"What does it say about us?" I uttered in a hushed voice.
"It says that there are others like us Tara." Willow hugged me tightly and sighed.
"I don't suppose you teach this chapter in any class do you Willow?" She laughed sharply and shook her head.
"No we don't darling, but we do allow the girls to read it."
"I'd like to read it Willow. Can I?" I was truly fascinated. Not only had I never read a book about sex that wasn't tied to God or procreation, I had never read about intimacy between women. The idea that this happened, enough for someone to write a book about it, fascinated me. Things fell into place then and I felt as though a veil was being lifted from in front of my eyes.
"You can have a copy of it Tara. You can read it as much as you would like to."
I turned in Willow's arms then and kissed her soundly, startling her but clearly not frightening her as she kissed me back, groaning into my lips when I pulled away.
"More..." Willow sighed, her eyes closed; lips parted and glistening. I grinned uncontrollably and pecked her lips with mine lightly, over and over. I was simply overjoyed with all that she was showing me and all that I was feeling. We hugged then, cuddling each other as sweethearts do.
"Will you show me more Willow?" I sighed against her neck.
"All that I can Tara."
True to her word,Willow spent the remainder of the day showing me different areas in the Institute; she taught me about my new world. On the second floor, she described the mathematics and finance classes that Harris taught. I was amazed to learn that there was an entire week in the curriculum devoted to masking an inheritance behind a business, which was legal for a woman run and sell. Harris, it turned out, was also the English, French and German teacher.
"We hope to have you teach Latin Tara. Anne says I don't have the patience for Language." Willow looked hopefully at me.
"I'd be delighted to Willow."
The second floor, like every other, had a study room and library devoted to the subjects taught there. The classrooms themselves, one for language and one for mathematics and finance, where filled with tidy desk spaces. On one wall in each room, behind where the teacher would stand, there was an unusual looking white board with a tray under it. On the tray sat several large and thick pencils as well as a box with tissues sticking out of it.
"What is this board Willow?"
With pure delight, Willow clapped her hands and rushed over to the large white space.
"Well you see Tara, I hate chalk. It's messy and dirty and just horrid to get out of your clothes. So look at these here." Reaching for one of the large pencils, she began to write smoothly on the white surface. "They're hollow pieces of wood with colored wax poured into them Tara! Isn't it grand? You can sharpen them and the wax runs the length of the entire wood."
I stepped toward the white space and ran my hand over it. "What is this made of Willow? It's so smooth!"
"Oh! That's heated glass mixed with apprentice glue! That's why it's white. Do you see how the entire surface is really a collection of many squares? I bake them in a kiln and then fasten them to the wall to form one large surface."
Willow stepped closer to me, taking my hand and running it slowly over a seam in the board. I grinned, once again amazed by the pure brilliance of Willow.
"You did this? And the wax pencils?"
Willow nodded proudly and smiled. I took the large wax pencil from her hand and wrote awkwardly on the board.
Willow's grin grew impossibly larger and she took another pencil with red wax and proceeded to draw small hearts encircling what I had written. Her smile faded as she noticed how very large our writing was. Reaching down to the box of tissues, she pulled out a sheet, poured liquid onto it from a bottle tied to the wall, and proceeded to wash our names from the board.
"It's an alcohol-soap mixture. It cleans the surface and breaks up the wax." She looked almost apologetic as she told me. I took her hand reassuringly and squeezed it.
"It's brilliant Willow. You are simply amazing." Tugging me gently, Willow led us out of the room and we made our way to the third floor.
On the third floor, Willow showed me the History, Humanities and "Survival" classrooms. As she explained it to me, the Survival classrooms centered around skills that women where not taught in their youth or at any point during their schooling; law, speech and debate, taxes, and just how things worked in general. Willow and Anne shared these classes along with various teachers when they were available. Anne taught History and Humanities exclusively. We then journeyed up to the fourth floor. Willow took a deep breath and held my hand as she lead me through her sanctuary of Science. The whole of the fourth floor was dedicated to Natural Sciences, Chemistry and Botany. Each room had rows of benches and stools, with small scientific utensils at each set of chairs. In one room, there were racks of animal and insect specimens along the back walls.
"I teach Natural Science, Evolution and Botany here. Isn't it beautiful?" Willow proudly lead me to the cases to view her carefully collected and labeled samples.
"It's so incredible Willow. It's like a museum in here." I gazed in awe at the many species of animal and plant that Willow had collected, cataloged and described for her classes.
Then, realizing what she had said, I looked sharply at her. "You teach Evolution? As in the theories of Darwin?"
Willow grinned widely and reached for my hand again, playing with my fingers. "Have you read his work Tara?"
"I have," I smiled back at her, my fingers naturally and effortlessly dancing with hers "but I hadn't realized anyone but myself gave his theories credence. You have to understand that nobody, not even my liberal brother, will talk about his ideas in public."
"Ah yes, because he is a 'dangerous thinker'." Willow rolled her eyes.
"It's even more than that Willow. It's because most people, even those men with good educations, cannot comprehend the act of Natural Selection. Who, if not God, is doing the selection? They cannot comprehend the will and movement of a entity that is not human or manlike. It's fear of ignorance more than just fear itself that cause people to label Charles Darwin 'dangerous'."
Willow stood with her mouth agape, staring wide eyed at me. I laughed at her expression and swung her hand to and fro.
"Have I scared you now Willow? It worries me when you say nothing."
Willow shook her head in the negative. "I think I love you," she whispered.