Learning Curve

She’d always heard that Catholic girls go wild when they enter college, but she didn’t believe it. That didn’t mean that Jessie wouldn’t wonder what would happen once her classes began. Would she adhere to the morals and values she’d had drilled into her head? Or would she date recklessly, use drugs and drink until sloppy drunk?

On her first day at Chabot College, her local community college, Jessie stepped on campus with her nerves a tingle. Everywhere she looked were couples. Some walked hand-in-hand with serene looks on their faces. Some sat on benches, walls and lawns, often with arms and legs entwined. Still there were others leaning against trees with lips locked and bodies pressed firmly against one another.

Which would she be? A wanton hussy? A tender lover? A lonely spinster?

Jessie didn’t know which description fit her best. All she knew and hoped was that someone, some nice young man would find her interesting. But she set her sights low as she was not pretty, not even comely, but a frumpy, old-lady-like ultra conservative spinster at the ripe old age of eighteen.

As days passed she got to know the names of people in her classes. There were the outspoken types who knew everything and wanted their voices to be the only ones heard. There were the silent, but giggly cheerleader-types with skinny bodies, lanky legs and long hair well past shoulders. There were some like Jessie, not many, with limp hair, blotchy complexions and puffy bodies, and they were the ones who always sat alone. Jessie thought about joining them, but realized that even at her age you were defined by your friends. She knew she was socially awkward, but didn’t want to hang out with her kind. She wanted to establish a new identity: that of a smart, datable woman.

Months passed. Despite using her mother-taught skills to sew more fashionable clothes, nothing changed. Day after day Jessie ate alone, walked alone, spent study hours alone in the library or in some alcove tucked into a recess. The only change that she noticed was what was happening to some of her classmates. Pregnancies blossomed as winter neared. Were those the wanton hussies she’d heard about? Catholic girls gone wild?

Jessie wanted to feel what it was like to be held in a tight embrace, to be kissed tenderly, passionately, until her body responded in the way she’d read about in books. Maybe not to the point of losing her virginity, but it would be nice to come close.

Second semester George Atwood sat next to her in Advanced Calculus. He was a good-looking guy, but not what you’d call handsome. Not built like a football player with broad shoulders, but more like a golfer. He smiled at her and said hi every class period.

One day he slipped her a note, like she saw kids do in high school. When Jessie opened it later, she discovered an interest quiz which George must have copied from a magazine. He had listed a variety of activities and placed a box in front of each. She was supposed to check all those she liked and then return the note during the next class.

This was exciting! A man was interested in her!

Jessie checked off bowling, walking, reading, movies. She didn’t know what spelunking was and didn’t like going underwater, so diving and snorkeling were out. She didn’t want to swim because she was ashamed of her lumpy body. She did mark sports because she enjoyed playing soccer, baseball and had bowled for many years, and she loved watching almost any sport on television.

When George sat down next to her at class, Jessie slid the note to him, then waited to see his reaction. His face remained blank, his focus on the professor.

Jessie’s heart was broken before it ever had the chance to fall in love. She sat with downcast eyes throughout class, struggling to contain tears that filled her eyes. Sadness sat on her shoulders like a huge weight.

But after class, instead of rushing out like he usually did, George lingered. He smiled shyly as he rubbed one toe on the carpet. “Want to go on a date?”

Jessie smiled demurely. “Yes.”

Without saying a word, George placed his hand on her back and led her outside the building. “Are you free Saturday?”

She nodded.

“What would you like to do? See a movie? Go bowling? Go for a ride? We could go to Garin Park and hike.”

“Garin Park would be nice,” she said. “I’ve never been there.”

“Great. Do you want me to pick you up or would you prefer to meet there?”

“I don’t have a car, so how about you pick me up? If you tell me what you like to eat, I’ll pack a picnic lunch.”

They exchanged information, then said goodbye. Jessie smiled all through the rest of the day. She smiled on the way home on the bus. But when she walked through the front door, her mother gave her a funny look and then the cross examination began.

“Why’s that smile on your face? What have you done?” her mother demanded.

“Nothing wrong,” Jessie said. “A nice guy asked me on a date. We’re going to Garin Park.” She wasn’t prepared for the snicker that erupted from her mother’s lips.

“You’ve got to be kidding. Any guy who dates you is only looking for one thing and you’d better not give it to him.”

Jessie’s cheeks burned red. She knew what her mom was implying and there was no way she was doing that. She’d never been kissed, but she wasn’t so naïve as to not understand the implications of going further. “Nothing’s going to happen. We’re going to picnic and hike. That’s it.”

“I’d better meet him first,” her mother said.

“Don’t worry. He’s picking me up.”

The next two days Jessie worried about what to wear, what to fix for lunch, and what would happen when her parents met George. She’d seen movies where the parents were rude, embarrassing both the daughter and the date. She was sure her parents would behave poorly.

When Saturday arrived, Jessie put on her best jeans, and a royal blue Warriors sweatshirt. She brushed her shoulder-length hair a thousand times, positive that when she was finished, that it was smoother and shinier. Jessie fixed ham sandwiches with mayo, tomatoes and pickles, plus a slice of Swiss cheese.  She put two cans of soda in a bag along with two chocolate chip cookies she’d made that morning.

George arrived driving a recently washed gray Hyundai Sonata. When he got out of the car, he smoothed back his hair, tugged the hem of his college sweatshirt and headed to the door. Before he could ring the bell, Jessie opened it with a smile on her face.

She escorted him to the front room where her parent lay in wait. Neither responded to his polite greeting, instead glowered at him as if he was evil incarnate.

“So,” her dad said, “why are you interested in her?”

George stammered a bit before responding, “Jessie’s nice and smart.”

“But she’s ugly,” her dad said as he shrugged his shoulders. “There’s only one thing a guy would want, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll walk out and never come back.”

George grabbed Jessie’s hand tightly in his own. “I don’t think of Jessie that way. She’s a friend, someone I’d like to get to know better.” With that, he led Jessie out of the house and into the car. “Wow, that was intense.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know he’d be like that. Well, I feared he would, but I had hoped not.”

“Listen,” George said as he drove down Mission Boulevard, “if you’re uncomfortable being with me, I can bring you back home.”

“No,” she said as she brushed her hand against his arm. “I want to be with you. Really, I do.” She folded her hands primly in her lap. She stared at her fingers as she said, “I mean, I should tell you that I’ve never dated before. You’re my first.”

All went well. They found an empty picnic table right away. George ate everything, even praising the cookies when Jessie said she’d made them. They talked, shared stories, even discussed Calculus problems, which was a bit weird for Jessie as she’d never talked about schoolwork before.

“Let’s go for a walk,” George said after they’d stowed the bag in the trunk. “There’s a nice trail that encircles the park. If we’re lucky, we’ll see some deer.”

As they walked, they talked about the blue sky dotted with cumulus clouds and the possibility of rain. About the flowers that were still in bloom, typical for California. The dragonflies that zipped about, the giant moths and even a herd of cows grazing near an apple orchard.

When no more people were about, when there were no sounds of laughter, kids playing or conversation, George led Jessie into a copse of trees. He leaned against a trunk as he pulled her to his chest. “I really like you,” he said as he brushed his hand over her hair. “You’re smart and kind and thoughtful.”

“Thanks,” she said as she felt her cheeks turn crimson. “I like you too.”

His breath tickled her neck as he gently kissed her, over and over.

Jessie had never felt loved, not even from her parents who had ridiculed her for her whole life. Called her ugly, dumb, stupid, idiot, and many other terms that she preferred not to think about.  George’s kind words filled her insides, making her feel light as air.

When his lips met hers, she kissed him back. It was wonderful. His lips weren’t squishy, but firm. Not too firm. She responded in kind, not sure if she was doing it right, but when George intensified the pressure of his lips, Jessie began to question the safety of her situation.

She pushed back, trying to put some distance between them, but George resisted, pulling her tighter against him. He ran his right hand up under her shirt, rubbing her back in circles that at first were soft and enticing, but soon became firm and painful.

“Stop,” she said as she took a step backward. “Remove your hand.”

George’s grip around her waist increased until she was smashed against him, barely able to breathe. His hand undid her bra, then moved to her chest.

“No. I don’t want this.”

“Yes, you do,” he said. “You said you’d never dated. You must have dreamt about this. I’m going to be your first. You’ll love it.” He bent over and kissed her breasts. His hands went under the waistband of her jeans, rubbing back and forth, back and forth.

“No!” she yelled as she grabbed his hands and pushed them away. Jessie pulled her sweatshirt down and ran back down the trail toward the parking lot. Tears coursed down her cheeks as she cursed herself for being so stupid as to think he liked her, really liked her for who she was, not what he could take from her.

George followed, whistling a merry tune. No matter how fast Jessie ran, she could hear him. She knew he was there, probably even smirking at her stupidity. Her foolishness.

When Jessie reached the parking lot, she realized her mistake. She had no way home. She had no money, so couldn’t call her parents to come get her. She wouldn’t do that anyway as it would reinforce their belief in how undesirable she was. How they had told her over and over that no many would marry her, that men would only want was her body, not her love.

The walk home was too far. Granted, she was in good enough shape to do it, but the park was at the top of a huge hill, on a street with no sidewalks that, on a Saturday, was filled with fast-moving vehicles. Jessie thought about flagging down a friendly-looking driver, but realized that was as dangerous, if not more so, than riding with George.

“I knew you liked me,” he said as he walked up to the car. He pressed her against the hood, forcing her to bend backwards. He resumed kissing her, fondling her, ignoring her mumbled cries to stop.

“Is there a problem?” a deep voice asked.

“No,” George said as he hastily pulled away.

“Yes,” Jessie cried when she saw the uniform of a park ranger. “Please, help me.”

“Sir, let the lady go.” The ranger glowered at George as he pulled Jessie aside. “Get in your car and drive away.”

“She’s got no way to get home. I’m her ride, so let her go.”

The ranger looked at Jessie. “Do you want to go with him?”

Jessie shook her head no. “But I’ll need help getting home.”

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll take care of that.”

Once George left, the ranger led her to an information booth. He had her sit on a folding metal chair next to his desk. “Now,” he said, “did he hurt you?”

“No. I’m okay. A little shaken up, though.”

“Do you have money for a cab?”

She shook her head.

“Can someone pick you up?”

“No. My parents, but I don’t want them to know about this. Please, don’t call them.”

The ranger nodded as he picked up the phone and made a call. He walked her to the parking lot and stayed with her until the cab came. He handed the driver money, then wished Jessie a good rest of the day.

Jessie dreaded what was waiting for her at home. Her parents would laugh uproariously, making fun of her with an intensity she’d felt over and over as she grew up.

“Well, what happened?” her mom asked when she came through the front door. “Why didn’t that guy bring you home? Who paid for the cab?”

“Nothing happened,” Jessie said as she headed down the hall to her bedroom, her mother trailing behind.

“You’re lying.”

Jessie turned on her mother, her face contorted with anger. “You always think the worst. You never see anything good about me. You don’t trust me to know right from wrong. In fact, I’ve never heard you say you love me.” She closed the door to block out her mother’s shouts.

Jessie knew she’d have to see George again since he was her table partner, so she dreaded returning to class on Monday. But when the professor began his lecture, no George had appeared. She sighed. It was over. No love, no boyfriend, nothing except her parents.

Saddened, but relieved, Jessie wrote down copious notes.


Sleaze Supreme

“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.