A Trying Situation

Jennifer wanted nothing more than to have one good friend. Someone she could rely on to be there for her. Someone who cared for her like no one else.

The problem was that she was the most unpopular kid in school. Dressed in too big jumpers, hand-me-down white blouses and oxford saddle shoes, she was a pariah. Her long hair was always in pigtails or braids, carefully done up by her mother, but not the popular style among girls her age.

How do you make friends when you are so radically different from everyone else? Jennifer didn’t know.

During recess and lunch, Jennifer followed the popular girls around closely enough that she could hear what they talked about. It was gossip, pure and simple. They made fun of everyone that wasn’t them. They laughed at things the teacher said or did. They chaffed at the teasing of boys, yet encouraged them by their suggestive saunters and shortened shirts.

Jennifer knew that she was often the butt of the snide comments, and this hurt, but yet she still wanted to be part of that group.

At home she practiced the walk. She begged and begged for a haircut until her mom relented and let it be shortened to shoulder length. She brushed her hair every night until it shone. In the morning she brushed it again, making sure there were no tangles, twists or poking out strands.

She convinced her dad to let her get new shoes that weren’t oxfords. It took a lot of work, but boy, did she feel happy when he relented! She saved her weekly allowance until she had enough to buy new shoes. It was May by the time her dad drove her to the store, but it didn’t matter. She finally had shoes like all the other girls wore.

There was nothing she could do about the jumpers and blouses. New ones cost too much, plus the year was almost over and she’d need replacements for eighth grade anyway.

Was it enough? Jennifer hoped so. When she walked on the campus in her new shoes with her new hair, she squared her shoulders and smiled at the first popular girl she saw.

The girl snubbed her. It was subtle, true. The girl, Marissa, looked at Jennifer, smirked, then turned and walked away. Not the greeting Jennifer was hoping for.

Tears came to her eyes, which she hastily wiped away before entering the classroom.

Yes, everyone saw her shorter, more stylish hair. She was sure that they also noticed her more modern shoes. But her clothes were still someone else’s. Her jumper was faded and baggy and her blouse off-white with a pixie collar than no one else wore.

Jennifer skulked to her desk and slid onto her seat, her shoulders drooping.

How to be accepted? She didn’t know.

During recess she went into the bathroom. Fortunately none of the popular girls were there. That quickly changed, however.

Jennifer recognized Susan’s voice first. “Did you see Jennifer’s hair? Not in braids or pigtails.”

“Yeah,” another girl said. “I couldn’t believe that she’d cut off her hair.”

“I loved her long hair,” Susan said. “No she looks more like a boy with that horse-face of hers.”

The other girl snorted. “Come on, she’s not that bad looking. She’s fat, but not too fat.”

“What boy would want to date her? Name one.”

The girls were silent for a moment. “Peter Strauss.”

Chuckles filled the room. “He’s just as fat and ugly,” Susan said. “They’d make a great pair.”

Water gushed from the faucets. Paper towels were ripped from the dispenser, the door opened and shut. Only then did Jennifer emerge. She stood before the mirror and checked out her face. Was she ugly? She didn’t think so. True, her cheeks were a bit puffy. She had a dimple when she smiled. Her eyebrows were thick, but not bushy.

She tossed her hair back and tried to picture a boy with the same cut. No names came to mind until she thought of Peter. His hair was long, shoulder length, like hers. Brown like hers. Straight like hers.

She imagined him standing next to her in front of the mirror. He would be taller, his shoulders broader, his neck thicker, but he was also overweight. He stuttered, while she did not. He spoke in a whisper only when forced to respond by the teacher. Jennifer also spoke in a whisper but she did it because she was easily embarrassed.

“Oh, well,” she said as she shrugged and exited the restroom.

Once outside Jennifer looked for the popular girls. They were clustered together near the teacher lunchroom, their usual place. Jennifer thought about walking over there, but then she spotted Peter leaning against the wall outside their classroom.

“Hi,” she said. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” he said. “What about you?”

Jennifer shrugged. “Hey, what’s your favorite TV show?”

“American Idol. I like to imagine that it’s me up there.”

“Do you sing?”

“Yeah, but only at home. And at church. What about you?”

Jennifer smiled. “Same with me. I have a radio in my room. I keep it tuned to 97.3 because I like the music they play.”

“That’s my favorite station. Want to come over sometime and we can listen together?”

Jennifer thought about the ramifications. If she palled around with Peter she didn’t stand a chance of ever being friends with the popular girls. On the other hand, there was a real good possibility that she’d never fit in with them anyway. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

“How about tomorrow after school? My mom could pick you up.”

“Let’s say Friday. That’ll give me time to ask my parents and get permission. One thing I know is that they’ll want to talk to your parents before then.”

Peter pulled a crumpled paper out of his pants pocket and a pencil from his shirt pocket. He wrote something and then handed the paper to Jennifer. “That’s my number. Write yours at the bottom and tear it off. I’ll ask my mom to call this afternoon.”

When the bell rang, Jennifer was smiling. She had a friend! Her first real friend. Someone who wanted her to come over to his house and hang out. Granted it wasn’t one of the people she’d dreamt of having for a friend, but Peter was a loner like her. Together they’d make an awesome pair.

And that’s all that mattered.

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Bashfulness Explained

I was a socially awkward child. There was a reason for it.

When you’ve been scolded for speaking in the presence of visitors, when you’ve been made fun of and teased mercilessly, you learn that no one cares what you feel about a given subject. When you are never asked which flavor of ice cream you prefer or what cereal you’d like, you realize that your preferences have no import within the family.

I was the invisible child. I appeared when it was demanded, but only in body. My mouth only opened when I was forced into speaking. It was a rough way to grow up.

By the time I was five, being invisible had become my salvation. It kept me safe from punishment for saying or doing the wrong thing. It also made me miserable. I was an unhappy child whose self-esteem was nonexistent.

For some reason that I’ll never understand, my parents decided to enroll me in Kindergarten. At that time K was not required, and so it cost money, of which my parents had very little.

It quickly became apparent that I was academically behind my peers. I could not name all of the colors, did not know shapes, knew no letters of the alphabet and could not write numbers. While this lack of knowledge placed me far beyond my classmates, and I recognized my ignorance even at that young age, it also placed me at a disadvantage whenever it became time to work with others, either on schoolwork or on the playground.

My teacher thought that I was just shy and that I’d overcome it. She was wrong.

Day after day I sat silent in my assigned chair. I did not speak when the teacher asked me a question. If cornered, I could manage a whisper, but only a word or two. Just enough to respond.

On the playground I was a loner. I loved to swing, but I refused to stand in line to have a turn. Instead I played in the sand, by myself, day after day. Even after a storm when the sand was damp, that’s where I’d be.

When Kindergarten ended, I knew a lot of things. I had learned colors, shapes, numbers and letters. I could hold a pencil correctly and write my name, the alphabet and numbers. I could draw shapes and color within the lines. But I could not speak and I had no friends.

It was a terrible way to begin one’s academic career.

As I grew older, I understood what was required to get the grades my parents expected, so I did all the things that my teachers demanded. I still sat silent, however, even when called upon to respond. No matter how hard I tried, I could not muster the strength to squeak. It was embarrassing.

Things improved somewhat in junior high. By then I had developed a voice, but it was a quiet one. I still had no friends. I could not approach someone and initiate conversations and had a hard time participating even when I had something to offer.

In high school I made one friend. She was a loner like me. Somehow we found each other. Together we could speak. It was an awesome feeling.

I don’t remember her name, but I do remember the hours we spent walking her neighborhood talking about all kinds of things.

For me, it was a revelation. Someone cared what I thought and really wanted to know and understand my opinions!

Can you understand how liberating that was?

By the time I enrolled in college I had overcome much of the paralyzing fear I had of speaking out in class. I could raise my hand and answer in front of others, as long as the class was small. I could voice an opinion. I could find others like me.

I’d like to report that I am no longer shy, but that is not true.

I am comfortable with those who know me, but uncomfortable in groups of people who do not. This makes it challenging when I go to conferences and workshops. I am with ten to fifteen total strangers who are going to critique my writing and I am expected to critique theirs. It’s painfully hard.

In a crowd of “family” which includes people who I either don’t know or barely know, I find a corner in which to plop down and hide there.

People who have known me for a long time don’t believe that I am shy. Around them I am confident that they truly want to know what I think, and so I can relax and be me. I love being with those friends as they recognize that I am a person of worth.

If only I had felt this growing up. Imagine how different I might have turned out!

 

 

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Bus Stop Woes

Who’d ever think that her heart would shatter

Standing in the glittery sun of the bus stop

 

Her angel, lover, seeker-friend

Arm-in-arm with fiery siren

Strolled by, made an effort

To move his “love” to opposite arm

Warrior-shield protecting prize

 

Choked-back ceaseless cries

Buried by her hollow smile

 

Just as a broken-down building

Stands as empty sentinel

To the glory days of steel

Death reaches its fingers

Plucks the tendons

Unscrews the bolts

Crumbles the façade

Leaves only remnants of grandeurs past

 

Exposed to elemental forces

There is no place to hide

Even the semblance of warmth

 

She does not run

Instead she plants roots in the cement

Straightens her shoulders

Stands as a monument to power

 

healed

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Nighttime Imagination

Unfortunately I have an excellent imagination. This can be a boon when I read books about people and places I’ve never known as I can place myself in their story. It is a curse, however, when I wake in the night and think I hear sounds of someone breaking in.

One time when I was visiting my parents during my college years, I thought I heard someone outside my window, clawing at the screen, trying to peel it off. I lay there with my heart palpitating for a long time as I pictured him slithering in through the window and killing my family.

I didn’t get out of bed to check as I was too afraid. What if he saw me? Would he shoot me?

I didn’t cry out for similar reasons. What if he heard and then  became desperate enough to through caution aside and rip off the screen?

At the time we were living in a grubby house in a low-income neighborhood. We had nothing of value. But a burglar wouldn’t know that, would he?

In the morning I walked the outside of the house looking for evidence. I found massive footprints under each window and places where the paint had been scraped off. With evidence to support my claim, I told my parents. They went outside with me and looked as I pointed out each piece of evidence. They laughed at me.

Shortly after that they moved from southern California back to the SF Bay Area. I was told i8t was due to my dad being unable to find full time work. I didn’t believe the excuse. I was always convinced that they moved out of fear.

On another visit home I discovered that my parents had moved out of the master bedroom in order to let my sister have it. That first night home, I awakened when  it was totally dark except for a slight glow from the room creeping in through the curtains.

I heard breathing. I opened my eyes. Not wide open, but only a slit. There, standing at the foot of my bed was a man dressed in flannel shirt and khakis. He stood there for the longest time, doing nothing but watch me. He did not move his arms or shuffle his feet. He was still. And spooky.

Eventually I grew sleepy and must have fallen asleep. When I woke up in the morning, there was no evidence that he had been there. I did check the clothes hanging on the back of the door,  but there was no plaid shirt or khakis.

I told my mom what I had seen but she blew it off as my imagination. I can’t blame her as I had proven myself to be an unreliable witness.

Later on I heard her ask both my brother and my dad it either one of them had been in the room. Both of them wore plaid and khakis. Both denied every stepping foot in my room.

There was another time at college when I was sitting at my desk looking out over the campus. It was dark, but the campus lights were on and the building directly across from my room was also lit from within.

Looking down, I became aware of a commotion. Police were moving about, shining flashlights into bushes and along the walls of the buildings. It was intriguing.

For some reason I looked up. On a floor parallel to mine was a man peering out a window. I could clearly see him, so I was certain that he could see me.

He also watched the goings-on down below.

Eventually the police entered that building. I wanted to tell them about the man in the window, but this was before cell phones.

Suddenly I became fearful. What if the man, knowing where I lived, escaped the police and entered my building?

I closed the curtains.

My first roommate was a bit of a character. She was a spoiled rich kid, used to doing whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. She came and went at all hours of the night. Because she didn’t like carrying the room key, she demanded that the door be kept unlocked.

I hated her for that.

It came to a head one night when I woke up and felt something cold by my head. It lay against my arm. It felt like flesh. I held my breath and lay as still as I could. I kept my eyes closed, not wanting the invader to know that I was awake.

I stayed like this for a long, long time. Eventually I convinced myself that it was nothing but imagination. I never got up and turned on the lights.

The next time I saw my roommate, I told her that from then on, the room would be locked.

There are many more instances when my imagination worked overtime. A week ago I got up around two-thirty to use the restroom. When I returned to bed, I heard a noise in the front room. It sounded like someone was opening drawers.

I listened for a long time. I heard similar noises. Tried to convince myself that it was the cat.

Considering my age, I doubt that I will change anytime soon. I know that there will be other instances, other events in which I frighten myself that someone has invaded my territory.

I have learned to stay calm. I use rational talk and soothing words. I stay in bed and keep my breathing steady.

I can do all those things, but I cannot stop my imagination from wandering.

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I was a fat baby. Earliest photos show fat lines around my wrists, knees, elbows, well, just about everywhere.

As I grew older, I did not lose that fat. Instead it grew with me. It’s not that I didn’t exercise. I was an active kid. I played kickball, softball, baseball, whiffle ball, croquet and more. I built snow forts in the winter. I hiked through the woods behind our house. I climbed trees and searched for maple leaves.

Even so, I remained fat.

When I was about ten years old my parents enrolled me in skating lessons at the local rink. This was not due to a request of mine, but rather something they decided I should do.

If they had asked, I would have declined.

I had roller skates at home. I did learn to skate and did so in the garage fairly regularly. I was capable of skating around and around in circles, encompassing the confines of the garage, but I could not do any fancy moves and had no inclination to learn any.

In fact, I was terrified of falling, so never went too fast.

Imagine my terror the first time I put on skates at the roller rink and walked out onto the floor. I was trembling and clearly shaken. I begged, cried, pleaded, to no avail.

So I grabbed the wall and moved. Slowly. Almost like walking. Eventually I worked up to rolling at a very slow speed, still holding tightly to the wall.

After completing the first circle, I got brave and let go. I still was not gliding, but rather stepping, but at least I was moving.

Then the instructor called us to the center of the rink. She demonstrated how to skate by putting one foot in front of the other and sent us off. I tried. I really did, but I was too scared to commit to lifting one foot in the air.

The other kids got it. I thought they were all professionals pretending to be ordinary kids. Most of them zipped around the rink. Most did this crossover maneuver when they hit the turns.

I walked.

Our next task was to learn the hokey pokey. Simple, right? Not if you’re afraid to lift a foot or turn your backside around. Which describes me perfectly.

While the others shook this and that, I stood still. The instructor tried to convince me to do it, but I refused. She cajoled. She demonstrated. She stood next to me and held my hand.

I stood still.

When the song was done, she sent us off to circle the rink again. While I was creeping along, the instructor spoke to my mom. I found out late that the instructor thought I could benefit from private lessons, but there was no money for that. My mom promised to bring me during free skate times so I could practice.

And she kept that promise despite my pleas to give up the idea.

I did not improve. I stayed terrified.

Week after week my mom forced me out onto the rink and watched while I did as little as possible.

Sometime during a lesson someone told my mom that I needed an outfit for an upcoming performance. It was to be a two-piece blue skirt and halter top. My belly would be sticking pout for all too see and the skirt was so short, that if it didn’t have built-in panties, my own would show.

I didn’t want the outfit. I didn’t want to be in the performance, but that didn’t stop my mom.

She took me to the fabric store and bought the pattern and the fabric. She sewed an outfit that would have pleased someone else, but when I put it on, all I felt was horror.

The day came. My mom drove my siblings and I to the rink so my family could see me out on the floor.

As soon as we arrived, she sent me into the restroom to change. I did. But I didn’t come out when I was finished. Instead I stood in front of the mirror, appalled at the fat that was so clearly obvious.

My mom came looking for me. She grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the room, into the spectator area of the rink.

The other kids were dressed and ready to go. Not a one of them looked like me. All had thin arms, thin legs, thin bellies. All looked awesome in their blue outfits. All stared at me as if a hippopotamus was in their midst.

I felt ill. I truly believed that I was going to throw up. I left my mom and walked into the bathroom where I locked myself in a stall.

When I heard the hokey pokey music, I cried. I knew I would get in trouble for wasting precious dollars. I knew that my father would be told. I knew that both parents would lecture and scold. I knew that I would be punished.

But I could not unlock that door. Could not return to the rink.

When it was all over, my mom brought me my clothes. When she said nothing, I knew I was in trouble.

She said nothing all the way home.

She did tell my father. He did punish me. I went to my room and cried.

Later on, I hid my skates in a dark corner of the garage and never used them again.

The sad part is that I never asked for lessons. Had never hinted that I wanted to learn to skate better. I was satisfied going in slow circles around the garage floor.

I felt like a failure. This feeling clung to me for so many years that I never wanted to try something new again.

 

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One Special Day

Sherry watched woefully as her classmate Sabrina handed out bright yellow envelopes to the girls in the class. One by one eyes lit up and smiles creased faces as the envelopes were torn open. Squeals of delight filled the air.

Sherry crossed her fingers behind her back, hoping desperately that this time she would be included. As the pile slowly got smaller, she knew, due to years of experience, that once again she would be left out. It didn’t mean she couldn’t dream, however, that things had changed.

It brought tears to her eyes, watching all those happy faces, yearning to be among them as an equal. But she wasn’t equal Far from it. Her old-fashioned clothes made her stand out amid all the rest. Who wore seersucker skirts and gingham dresses?

No one. That’s who.

And her shoes. They didn’t help either. Her doctor insisted on saddle oxfords to support her weak arches. Sherry hated them.

She wanted Nikes or Keds: black and gray or blue and white, with the distinguishing logo on the side so that she could be like the other kids.

Even her hair distinguished her from the pack. Her classmates all had brown or black or blonde hair. But not her.   Bright red curls surrounded her head, forming a wild halo of color. No one else had red hari except for Billy, a rather odd-looking boy who often trailed after her, calling her names, pushing her from behind and pulling her hair while he cackled like a witch.

He was excluded from the boy groups just as she was from the girls.

Sherry had tried to convince her mom to cut her hair, to keep it close to her had so that she didn’t look like a crazy person, but her mom would have none of it. Her mom’s hair was just as red, just as curly, but she saw it as a source of pride, not embarrassment.

Sherry practically drooled as Sabrina neared her on the playground. Only one card left. Only one invitation to hand out. Only one girl not holding one.

As Sabrina walked up to Sherry, the girl’s face broke into a huge smile. Sherry trembled with excitement. This was it! She was no longer an outcast!

Sabrina’s hand slowly extended toward Sherry. Closer and closer the envelope came.

Was this going to be the time when she got invited?

Granted, when she was little she attended quite a few parties, but that was because of the rule that everyone got invited or no one did.

Those were the good days. Days when she didn’t feel different.

But in elementary school things changed. There were no rules, so kids could pick and choose who to invite. As soon as the teasing began in first grade, no invitations ever came her way.

She was in fourth grade now and should have known better. But she got good grades, never got in trouble, never teased other students, never gossiped. Surely the other kids noticed.

And so she smiled back at Sabrina. As the card got close enough to touch, Sherry extended her hand, ready to receive it with the increasing joy she felt welling inside.

Just as Sherry’s fingers neared the edge of the envelope, Sabrina moved past her. “Mrs. Allen?” Sabrina said. “Would you like to come to my party?”

Sherry turned around and looked at the smile on her teacher’s face.

Once again, she stood out. She was the odd girl. The one no one wanted at their party.

 

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Sleaze Supreme

“Did you hear the rumor about our dear principal?”

“No.”

“Well,” said Tom Smythe, the senior Government teacher at Valley Christian High School, as he leaned back with a rather smug look, “it’s a really great story.”

Debbie Alsop, a first year teacher, asked, “What’s being spread around now?”

“Supposedly he’s been accused of sexual harassment, just like in his last district.”

“What do you mean?”

“Jim cornered a young teacher.  She filed a sexual harassment suite that looks pretty solid.”

“Come on, Tom, you’re always stirring up trouble. Don’t you think the director checked Mr. Perry’s record before hiring him?”

“You are so naïve,” Tom said as he leaned back in his chair.  “Wait until he puts his hands on you.”

“I don’t want to hear anymore,” Debbie said as she grabbed her pile of essays and walked away.  She was so angry rage spilled out of her pores.  Tom and his rumormonger friends ruined more than one teacher’s career, simply because they had the power to do so.  Anyone with a work ethic, anyone who was a good teacher, was a potential target.  Debbie knew she was their next victim thanks to an inside tip from a veteran teacher, and so she kept herself clear of Tom and his pack of liars.

Debbie stomped down the hall past a pair of teenagers locked in a passionate embrace, past a young teen defacing a hallway mural, and past a group of smokers who quickly formed a defensive circle as she breezed past, paying as much attention as a fly with cataracts. While students were expected to leave shortly after the last bell, it wasn’t unusual to find clusters of them openly defying the rules.  The first few days of school Debbie challenged the defiant ones, but when she was not supported by administration, she chose temporary blindness as a reaction. It was easier that way.

After unlocking her classroom door, Debbie plopped her papers on the worktable at the back of her room, turned on her stereo to a soft rock station, and then simply sat. Brushing off her anger, Debbie immersed herself in the essays, reading primarily for content, but hoping for glimmers of brilliance from her otherwise apathetic students.  She did not hear her classroom door open, nor the barely discernible touch of expensive leather soles crossing the carpeted floor.

When strong hands squeezed both shoulders, Debbie screamed.  She grabbed for the hands, trying to pry them off her shoulders, but to no avail. Suddenly warm breath tickled the hairs on the back of her neck, little puffs that sent shivers rolling down her spine. The hands held Debbie firmly in place, stopping her from pulling away or even turning to see the attacker’s face. She squeaked, “Who are you?  What do you want?”

“Relax, Debbie,” said a softly crooning voice.  “It’s me, your old pal.”

The hands released her as quickly as they had pinned her down.  Debbie’s chair spun around almost from its own volition, stopping only when she was inches from the hazel eyes of Jim Perry.  “You frightened me, Jim.  That wasn’t fair.”

“There’s nothing to be frightened of, now, is there?”  He spun Debbie back around, returned his hands to her shoulders and immediately applied a deep massage.  “I came by to see how you were doing.  You didn’t stop by my office today, so I was worried about you.”

She struggled to fight off the lethargy creeping from her shoulders down her back. While the massage felt incredible, something about his nearness repulsed her. Debbie shrugged her shoulders, trying to wrench away from Jim’s grip, but his hands refused to let go. “I have a lot of work to do,” she stammered. “I, uh, didn’t know you wanted to see me.”

“I had been planning to visit your classroom anyway,” he said as his right hand slid down Debbie’s spinal column, caressing each vertebra.  “I’ve heard that the student work you have displayed is phenomenal.”  The hand traced the line of her bra, moving from armpit to armpit, traveling around the front, stopping just as his fingers contacted the swelling of each breast.

Uncomfortable with the uninvited touch, Debbie tried to think of a way to disengage from the situation without angering the man who literally held her fate in his hands. “Tell you what.  Let’s go to your office right now.”  She tried to push out of her chair, but Jim’s hands flew back to her shoulders, holding her firmly in place.  He squeezed so hard that tears filled her eyes.  “You’re hurting me.  Please stop.”

“You’re fine.  So fine.  Just relax.”  Jim resumed his massage while keeping his left hand on Debbie’s shoulder. As his hand “accidentally” brushed her breast, he said, “Let’s stay here where no one will interrupt our conversation.”  His right hand tiptoed across her cheek, her neck, around the outside of her ear, and the outline of her quivering lips. “I locked your door when I came in, so we are quite safe.  Quite alone,” he murmured as his kissed her hair along her neckline.

Tremors shook Debbie’s body and tears slid from her eyes.  Again she reached for Jim’s hands, hoping to stop his increasingly incessant explorations of her upper torso, but he craftily avoided her bumbling attempts. “It’s time for me to go,” she said.  “My ride is waiting.”  Her heart pounded so loudly she thought for sure he could hear it.

“I’ll give you a ride home when we’re finished.”  His handsome face moved near hers again, his blue eyes glittering like ice, his cheeks crimson, and his breath coming in ragged puffs. “You are so beautiful and so smart,” he said as his index finger brushed her lips.  In an exaggerated motion, Jim then touched his own lips, inserted the offending finger in his own mouth, and caressed it with his tongue.

“Stop, please,” Debbie said.  “I really do need to leave.  My car is in the shop and my roommate is coming to pick me up.”

“There’s something on your cheek,” Jim said.  He leaned so close that she could smell his lunchtime latte and burger with fries.  She gasped when his tongue tenderly licked away tears streaming down her cheeks.  “Everything is going to be alright,” he crooned.  “Relax.  Jim Perry is a magician who makes all pain disappear.  Let me work my magic.”

He framed her chin with one large hand, pulled her close with the other, and kissed her, forcing his tongue into her mouth.  Gagging, Debbie pulled away, saying, “I’m, uh, expecting a phone call any moment to tell me my car is ready. I need to pack up my things.”

“You’re lying,” Jim said as he deftly pulled over a nearby chair and sat, knees touching hers, hands resting on her thighs. “I don’t think you’re expecting a call.  In fact, your car is right next to mine. I checked before I walked out here. Why are you playing games with me?”

“I’m not.  Maybe my roommate picked up my car for me.  Let me call her to check.”  Debbie reached for her phone, but his hand shot out and grabbed her by the wrist.  As Jim pulled her back to him, he twisted her hand until there was an audible pop.  “Stop!  You’re hurting me,” she cried.

As he pulled her to him he said, “I don’t like it when people play games with me.”  He leaned forward, staring into Debbie’s eyes, his own eyes hard and frightening.  He forced his tongue into her mouth, holding her head in a pincer-like grasp. Jim’s right hand went under her blouse, rooted around for her breasts, and squeezed so hard she gasped. “You are so beautiful,” he whispered into her left ear, his afternoon whiskers scratching her cheek.

Saying nothing, pretending to relax into the probing kisses, Debbie slid her hands up Jim’s chest and then pushed as hard as she could. Taken by surprise, he lost his hold, and the chair slid a foot away. Seizing the opportunity, she jumped up and ran to the opposite side of the room. “I have a lot to do, Mr. Perry.  I think you should leave now.”

“Since when did I become Mr. Perry? Aren’t we good friends?”  He languorously stood, brushing down the front of his black slacks while staring into her eyes.

“Yes. Of course,” she said as she silently slid closer to the wall phone.

“Haven’t I been a great help to you? Don’t I listen to your concerns?”

“Yes,” Debbie said as he strode toward her. “But I really do have a lot of papers to grade.  I think you should leave.”

“I think you need a break,” Jim said as he quickly cut off her path. He grabbed her arms, forcing her against the classroom wall. “Quit fighting me.  I know you want this,” he said as his breathing quickened.  He pulled Debbie’s arms up over her head, crossed her wrists, and then smashed them against the wall with his left hand.  He placed his right leg between Debbie’s legs, his chest smothering hers. Jim’s fingers found her buttons, and slowly, ever so slowly, he undid each one.  “That’s better,” he said. “Now you’ll be more comfortable.  It’s very warm in here.  Why don’t you turn in a work order to get the air conditioning fixed?”

“Please, Jim, stop.”

“Stop what, darling?” He blew into her ear as he ran his left hand under her bra.  “You’re my special project.  You know that, right?  The moment I met you, I marked you as someone I could work with.”  Jim slathered her neck and face with kisses.

His lips brushed hers once again, light as butterflies bouncing from flower to flower. “Stop,” Debbie mumbled as she tried to escape Jim’s amorous clutches.

Jim slid one hand down her chest, touching the waistband of her slacks.  He forced his fingers under the band, beneath her underwear, pushing deeper and deeper as his breathing came in ragged bursts. Debbie struggled, wriggling her hips in an attempt to get away, but that only seemed to intensify Jim’s probing.  The only thing she could think to pretend to relax into his embrace, then wait for an opportunity for escape.

“You like this, don’t you, Baby?”  He kissed her ears, her neck, and her breasts while his hand moved further down her body.  Jim was so preoccupied that he didn’t hear her cries, didn’t recognize her futile attempts at resistance. Jim slipped his coffee-enhanced tongue deeper into Debbie’s mouth, causing her to gag once again.

Empowered by nausea, she found the strength to push Jim away and ran to the nearest garbage can.  Bile filled her mouth over and over again.

“Hey!  You didn’t tell me you were sick,” he said as a look of horror crossed his face.  “My God, you’ve given me the flu!”  He took a starched white handkerchief from his pants pocket and wiped his lips and tongue.

“It isn’t my fault,” Debbie said as she shakily stood.  “You’re the one who kissed me.  Touched me.  I thought you were my friend.  Instead you’re as sleazy as the rumors say.”  She moved toward the phone, picked up the receiver and held it out like a weapon.  “This is an act of sexual harassment,” she said, surprising even herself with her strength.  “I intend to report your actions to Officer Young.”

Jim’s face reddened as he rearranged his mussed clothing and put his handkerchief away.  “I think you are mistaken, Ms. Alsop,” he said in a voice as sweet as whipped cream.  “I came to your classroom to talk to you about your lack of management skills.  To let you know that a pink slip will arrive before March 15.  Your teaching career is finished, unless you are willing to cooperate with me as your principal and mentor.”  He stared at Debbie, his eyes glittering with anger.

She punched in Young’s numbers.  She listened to four rings, saddened when Voice Mail kicked in.  Staring at Jim, she calmly said, “This is Debbie Alsop.  Please call me at 4366 when you have an opportunity.  I want to report an incident of sexual harassment.”

As she hung up the phone, Jim ran his hands down the sharp creases of his trousers. Staring at Debbie, he said, “If you report what happened here, you won’t be back next year. Maybe even next week.”  With that he slowly turned and headed for the door with a saunter that bespoke confidence in his ability to maneuver his way out of any situation.  “Not only that,” he said with his hand on the doorknob, “you won’t work anywhere in California.  I’ll file my own report which will detail how you tried to seduce me, despite the fact that you are a lesbian.”

Debbie watched dumbfounded as he opened the door and left.  Only when the door clicked shut was she able to move.  She scuttled to her desk, picked up her keys, ran to the door and locked herself in.  She sank to the floor.  Wrapping her arms around her knees, she cried.  She cried for his arrogance, for his betrayal of what she thought was friendship, for his threat to expose her sexuality, for the violation of her body.  Minutes passed.

Eventually Debbie stood, walked the distance to her desk, gathered her students’ papers, stuffed them into her satchel, picked up her lunch bag, and walked out.   She headed to the parking lot, unlocked her car and mechanically threw her bag onto the passenger seat.  She put the key into the ignition and with a feeling of satisfaction as the engine of her deep red Camaro roared to life, put the car into gear, and drove out of the parking lot.

At first she drove without direction, heading first north, then east, then finally turning into a shopping center a few blocks from home.  She pulled into an empty slot, stopped the car, and turned off the engine. Debbie leaned back into the soft leather seat and allowed the torrent of tears to flow. Even though Jim had gone way past sexual harassment, she knew she could not report it.  She could not risk the exposure of her sexuality. To be employed at the school she had lied on the professional integrity contract.  If he followed through with his threats she would also be promptly terminated, as sexual “deviancy” was not tolerated.   Plus there was the fact of the lie.  It proved that she was dishonest.

Wishing now that she had listened to Smythe’s rumors, Debbie revved up her engine and stormed away, heading for the safety of home and the waiting arms of her life-partner.  She knew that Sam would demand that she quit at the end of the school year, if not sooner.  No problem there.  Might as well start looking for another job.

 

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