2 - 1. Influences

It was at an unofficial freshmen welcome party - that is, one with alcohol - that Sophie first met the gray-haired girl.

That was a simplification. The party guest's waves of long hair only appeared at first glance to be pure gray; there was a trace of lilac visible only in the shadows. Sophie found the effect intriguing.

Silver hoop earrings peeked out from the front of the waves, and blue-gray eyes regarded Sophie from behind large, rounded silver-framed glasses. Lips lightly glossed in what must be close to their natural coloring subtly softened the effect of the unusual hair color. Lavender lipstick might have worked well, Sophie considered, but might have overloaded the effect. The freshman was flaunting a distinct style, but not letting her choices become pretentious.

She wore a cream, high-necked sleeveless top, with matching cream pants. Her breasts were small and her hips narrow, but the overall effect of her appearance was not at all androgynous. Instead, it was subtly but distinctly feminine.

Unlike most of the freshmen, she was nursing a single glass of wine. As Sophie approached, a flash of color at the girl's wrist caught her eye, resolving into an intricate fish tattoo, magenta on blue. She glanced up into the blue-gray eyes.

"Nice tattoo," Sophie said, moving closer.

The other smiled. "Thanks."

She turned her wrist out so that Sophie could see the ink more clearly, which exposed another design on the inside of her upper arm, just above her elbow. The design was similar, but the colors inverted.

"Oh, I see," Sophie said. "Fighting fish - and you keep them a safe distance from each other."

"Exactly," the girl said. Then she turned the tattoo to the side to extend her hand. "I'm Audrey."

"Sophie. Good to meet you, and welcome."

Audrey's smile was infectious.


Sophie's wish for a more intimate encounter later were short-lived. Audrey rebuffed her subtle suggestions with equal subtlety, without any hint of discomfort. She clearly considered herself entirely straight. It wasn't just her reference to a boyfriend that dissuaded Sophie, since that was generally easy to overcome. It was more the lack of any response in her pupils, or any change of expression beyond an apparent pleasure at having a companion for conversation. That was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, or any reason not to befriend her.

Over the next few days, Sophie ran into her several times at the school cafeteria. Twice she found Audrey reading a local advertising flyer. It was a paper published twice-weekly, which took the form of a single heavy folded sheet. It contained a mixture of ads, feelgood news, a simple puzzle, and a horoscope, which is what the girl's eyes appeared to be tracking.

Sophie studied her carefully, trying to determine at exactly what point of the page she was focused. It was close to the entry for Pisces, and the fish tattoos she'd seen convinced Sophie she'd guessed correctly.

Interesting. Although she hadn't brought up the topic, Sophie felt that she took the entry much more seriously than most would.

Conceiving a project, Sophie took a flyer back to her condo. Using the sheet as a guide, she found matching paper stock at the office supply store, then set up a template to scan and print passable copies.


When the next batch of flyers was delivered, Sophie stole them all, then scanned one and returned copies, with a slight modification. It wasn't hard, since few people took the flyers seriously. They were just casual time-wasters. The delivery was only a couple of dozen folded sheets, and there were usually a few still left when the next set arrived.

When she next saw Audrey, the younger girl read through the flyer, then looked up. "What's your birthday?"

Sophie raised her eyebrows. "Mine? September the seventh."

Audrey thought for no more than a couple of seconds. "So you're a Virgo?"

Sophie grinned at her. "Hon," she drawled, "I haven't been a Virgo since I was sixteen. Well, almost sixteen."

The girl colored slightly. "You know what I mean. Virgo is your sign."

Sophie shrugged. "Oh, I don't believe in any of that," she said. "You do?"

Audrey shrugged. "Not believe.. Not really. But, you know, it's interesting, and if you're trying to make a decision, then a horoscope or a fortune just adds more evidence, right?"

"You're making a decision?" asked Sophie, with her eyebrows raised.

"Nuh-uh," her friend replied. "I'm just saying. I don't take a faith position, but I don't dismiss it, and sometimes I've found it useful. Mostly it's for fun."

"That's fine," Sophie said. "Let a hundred flowers bloom."

Audrey smiled in acknowledgement.


Sophie didn't ask why Audrey had asked about her astrological sign at that point, and she didn't look at the flyer. She knew already that the entry for Pisces read, "Look to Virgo to guide your path in the weeks ahead. Great blessings are in store for you."

She knew that, because she'd written it herself.


Over the next few weeks, Sophie had gotten to know Audrey well, and liked her enough that she was still disappointed that the girl exhibited no wavering of her heterosexuality. Still, she had plans, which were progressing well.

Sophie didn't have to feign skepticism about horoscopes. She had absolutely zero belief in them, other than in her own predictions, which had nothing to do with the stars. But her own indifference meant that Audrey took her occasional questions seriously and led the young woman to share her thoughts about what she called "spirituality" with candor.

"Is this like a religion for you?" Sophie asked.

The gray-haired girl appeared to consider the question seriously for a good half a minute. "I don't believe in any gods," she said at last, "or even necessarily anything beyond the reality of the physical senses. But if an experience is real, even if it's only a feeling within you, don't you think it can be meaningful?"

"Have you ever felt anything like that?"

Audrey nodded. "When meditating, yes. Sometimes there's a feeling that's like beyond my senses, that seems profound and connected to the universe, like I've reached beyond the normal world. I think it's just within me. I don't feel like it's showing me God, or a god, or anything outside, but it feels real. Does that make sense? Have you ever had an experience like that?"

Sophie grinned. "Mmhmm. If he knows what he's doing."

Her friend looked puzzled for a second or two, then seemed both embarrassed and skeptical. "I don't think it's the same - but then I've, uh, never climaxed from sex. Only from, well, you know. Myself. And that's okay, but it isn't like a spiritual experience."

After talking further, Sophie suspected that Audrey had begun to realize that sex with her boyfriend was less satisfying than it could be, but wasn't sure what to do about it. Her expectation that intercourse could never be exciting for her had led her to feel that her sex life was adequate. Since starting college, though, the stories she'd heard had made her question this position, but she didn't think she could explain that to her boyfriend. He'd be hurt if she told him she needed anything more, or different, or to focus on her rather than himself. Sophie thought that Audrey was wasting her time with him, but the girl didn't seem ready to give up.


Sophie continued to intercept and alter every delivery of the advertising flyer. Usually she just modified Pisces, but occasionally she changed other signs. She changed Virgo if she could relate the prediction to sharing something significant with Audrey. On a couple of occasions she replaced Sagittarius, Audrey's boyfriend's sign, with a message that echoed the lack of passion and compatibility that Sophie had picked up. When she did this, Audrey would bring her boyfriend up in conversation, seemingly irritated by something about him. Sophie neither encouraged nor discouraged her.

Audrey was puzzling over an exhortation to Pisces to "let your most secret dreams blossom," when Sophie received a text from Ben.

"Need to see u to talk about this guy," he sent. Then a few seconds later a photo arrived of a hot, well-muscled guy with sandy hair wearing a golf shirt

"Who's that?" asked Audrey, glancing up the phone Sophie was studying.

"No idea," Sophie replied. "No idea - yet."


A few days later, Sophie was daydreaming about her encounter with Ben's golfer buddy, Ethan, when Audrey interrupted her thought. "Who do I know who's Gemini?" she asked.

"I'm sure I don't know," Sophie replied. She knew very well what her friend was referring to. Today's Pisces prediction stated, "The Twins offer paradise.".


A few days later, Sophie introduced the topic she'd been working towards.

Affecting a thoughtful frown, she asked, "Have I ever mentioned my friend, Ben?"

Audrey shook her head. "I don't think so?"

"He's someone I've known for years. He's a nice guy, just a little too, well, new-agey for me."

"Oh?" replied Audrey.

"You should meet him. He's smart, and fun, but.... all the... meditation, crystals, tantra, it's just not my thing,"

"Tantra?" Audrey's eyebrows rose.

"Isn't that the word? Tantra? Do I mean mantra?"

"Maybe," the girl replied, with a slight grin. "Probably. Tantra includes spirituality and religion, but in the west it usually has, like, other connections."

Sophie raised an eyebrow. "Well, I don't know, but then, I don't speak his language. I think you do."

"Is he around here?" Audrey asked.

"In the engineering school," Sophie confirmed.

"It's unusual for an engineer to be interested in mysticism of any kind."

"He's an unusual guy," Sophie agreed. "The last time I saw him, he said something about using chakra points as design foundations."

"Really?" Audrey's eyes were wide behind the round frames of her glasses. "I do think I'd like to meet him."

"Good." Sophie grinned. "I'll call him. We can go out for dinner."

"One question," Audrey began. "What's his birthday?"

"June seventh," Sophie replied. "Which makes him...?"

"Gemini," the girl replied, instantly. Then she frowned, thoughtfully, and said again, "Gemini. Well, that's, like, interesting."


There were two flyer drops between that conversation and the dinner. For the first, Pisces predicted "You are about to embark on a grand adventure." For the second, Pisces had nothing significant to say, but Gemini stated "Prepare for an awakening." That seemed sufficiently ambiguous to Sophie.


Ben would be paying for dinner. Audrey objected when she heard that, but Sophie shook her head. "Let him. He's not poor, and he owes me a meal."


Dinner was at a sushi restaurant, and would be followed by a visit to Ben's for a nightcap. Audrey wore a medium-blue skater skirt, with a matching jacket over a short pale-blue wrap. The wrap's neckline was low, but Audrey's small breasts kept the top from appearing immodest. Sophie figured, with a little amused jealousy, that she was braless, something Sophie could not get away with in a social group. Certainly not in a loose wrap.

Sophie introduced her to Ben, and the two were soon chatting comfortably, though Sophie was a little glassy-eyed at some of the topics.

As the group was finishing their meal, Sophie's cell pinged with a text, and after trading a few messages, she looked up to the others.

"Guys, something came up. My advisor wants me to join her for drinks with a doc. I can't pass this up. You all go on and have fun, though, you can talk about your mantas and healing pyramids better without me anyway, right?"

Audrey looked disappointed. "Well..."

"Sure," Ben cut in. "We can catch up later, and you'd probably doze off from boredom."

With an apology, Sophie grabbed her bag and left.