Associate professor Cassandra Marsh stomped into her office, tossed a plastic folder of notes on to her desk and groaned in annoyance. She had just (finally) gotten rid of an insufferably persistent gentleman by acquiescing to his request for a date. Cassandra, or Cassie, as those she was closest to called her, sat down in the comfy leather chair that had been an office-warming gift from her grandfather and turned her eyes to the ceiling as she mulled over the prospective night ahead.
Not to mention the thousands of unwritten dating ‘rules’ that she could make neither hide nor hair of. Cassie knew that she was not good company for would-be suitors. The few that did come back for a second date were quick to bail out when they realised that she was not easily claimed as a sexual conquest.
Only a couple of people knew that twenty-five year old Cassandra Marsh was still a virgin. She had come close to losing it once – four years ago she had been out on a series of dates with a man she’d met at college. On the sixth date, after driving her home to her apartment, he began kissing her with unsolicited passion while he slipped his hand up her skirt.
She found the sensations of him stroking and gently probing her womanhood, through her panties, to be awkward and uncomfortable, but she let it continue until the situation became too unpleasant to bear. The man’s response to her sudden display of reluctance was profane. ‘You must be fucking k**ding me!’ were the words that kept echoing through Cassie’s memory.
But ultimately, he was decent enough to cease his advances immediately, for which, Cassie later realized, she was extremely fortunate. The incident had prompted Cassie to wonder if perhaps she was a lesbian. The fact that she had never felt attracted to a woman, even though she had several beautiful friends, seemed to dissuade this theory, but nevertheless, it was a question that still played on her mind, from time to time.
As she forced herself to stop fretting about her upcoming date, Cassie turned her head and inadvertently caught sight of the ancient iron statuette sitting upon a modern pedestal, along the southern wall of her office. It was a sculpture of two people, a man and a woman, kneeling, looking into each other’s eyes and holding each other’s forearms.
Though simple, the artefact had a genuine quality to it that made it a nice little piece. Cassie sighed softly as she looked at the artefact, not in frustration, but in sorrow. The friend who had handed the sculpture over to Cassie, a wild-hearted archaeologist named Clara Roft, had been missing for several weeks.
She had been working with a group of archaeologists who had stumbled upon the tomb of a medieval Persian noble, a man who just happened to bear the name Hal’hadin (English translation: Alladin). Then one morning the rest of her colleagues awoke to discover that Clara was gone. Since then, no one, not even her parents had heard from her.
Tomorrow marked the four-month anniversary of Clara’s last confirmed sighting. This was not the best time for Cassie to have to put up with a randy American trying to woo her. ‘Bloody fool, girl,’ Cassie said softly, shaking her head as she cursed the cavalier lifestyle that, in all likelihood, had ended her best friend’s life.
Had circumstances been different, Cassie probably would have donated the artefact to a museum by now, or put it into the storage vault in the university’s archaeology department. But silly as it seemed, Cassie’s sentimentality would not allow her to part with the last thing her lost friend had ever given her.