That was the first small getsure between Shani and I - and it wasn't the last. It was generally she who would take my hand, or my arm, or hug me from behind when I wasn't expecting it, or hug me from in front when I was.

I didn't resist, either. I submitted, gladly; awkwardly at first, but as I began to get used to it, I would return her affectionate hand squeezes, or brush stray hairs from her clothing.

Once or twice, I remembered Deanna Macpherson, and though I felt more strongly for her, and less for Shani's bright innocence, Deanna's image was soon fading. I had told Shani that the girlfriend I'd left behind didn't exist - and indeed she didn't; since when had Deanna Macpherson been my girlfriend? - and so, between Shani and I, she didn't exist. There was just us, just the two of us; I beguiled myself that it was true. I pretended Deanna didn't exist, because I was too happy, too full of selfish vanity, to force myself to remember her.

Yes, I am full of selfish vanity. I am immersed in it. I always was. When I was young, I as the younger child liked to expect more attention. I didn't get it, except from Vere, for she was the darling of both my parents, but I was accustomed to that, and not jealous.

When she died, I was jealous. She, Vere, who was dead, and would never rise, was far more in the thoughts of my parents than I, the alive one, who craved and needed love and attention. I was jealous. I own it. And I hated myself as much as that jealousy because I was as bad as my parents.

I know it now - I was not grieving; I was satisfying an intense desire for the importance in opinion and respect of others. I never gained - how could I have gained it, in such a way? I was ill-advised by myself, and ill-equipped by the true grief rankling inside me, forced to the darkest depths by vanity, and bubbling slowly to the surface over time - yet over such time, pressure and heat had compressed the grief, morphed it into another state, and a substance much darker, much blacker, much angrier.

Now, light happiness and delighted palpitations, as Shani slid her fingers down to my broad hips, and Colby exchanged a laughing joke with me, and Alf teased us mercilessly, the black substance retreated once more to its dark depths - denied of the element which would dispel it forever, but utterly repulsed by cheer and joy. Its evil intelligence saw greater potential in the future, and I knew it - but I ignored it.

"You must be getting peed with Shani hanging onto you all the time," said Alf.

I inclined my head as her fingers became playful with my belt. "She's just a child."

"I'm older than you, Denis O'Derron!" said Shani's voice from behind me.

"I'll taller than you," I replied. "And older, if you'd forgotten."

"Is your name Denis?" asked Chelle with interest, coming up with her arms full of books.

"No, just Den," I grinned back.

"You seem like a Denis to me," said Shani mischievously, tickling me.

I tried not to flinch - but not because I'm ticklish, because I'm not. Deanna would always call me Den. There was never any question of a 'Denis' - hey, it wasn't even my name. Shani was just impertinent to... Don't be a bag, Den. She's just flirting.

I felt a warm surge of satisfied vanity, and turned on her, tickling her back without mercy.

"Shani really likes you," mused Chelle, and Alf snorted.

I said nothing, and I wasn't planning to say anything either. Let Shani like me. It was selfish of me, for I felt no more than a playful affection and light gratitude towards her - but I am selfish, and there the evil lies.

The End

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