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