Chapter 4: Tutor, Pt. c
_____She turned her chair back around, in the process setting it right against his. Out in the hallway, unbeknownst to them, Carol wept silently and quietly crept back into her bedroom.
_____Several minutes later, Jessica leaned her pretty head against Nelson's powerful arm and said, "Thank you for staying. You are the best homework helper I have ever had."
_____"I am pleased to be of service," he said.
_____Without looking at him she whispered, "You are different, Nelson. I mean, Sir. That was an amazing thing you just did."
_____He softly said, "Not amazing. Just courteous."
_____She shook her head and with strong conviction said, "Much more than courteous. My Dad would not have done that. Nor my uncles, nor my grandfather. They all wanted copies. No man I have ever met would have done that."
_____He mused, "Hmmm."
_____She glanced up to see him rubbing the shadow on his chin. He still appeared to be deliberating with himself.
_____She urged, "What?"
_____He said with a wry wink, "Don't make me start to regret giving them back."
_____She groaned and punched him on the arm, only to recoil, astonished by the sensation, as though she had thrown her fist into a wall, and assured him, "Oh, don't you worry, Sir, you won't regret it, and that is a promise." Then, smiling brightly, she returned her attention to the blank college ruled paper before her.
_____Nelson by now had lost sight of petty concerns such as propriety and compatibility. He looked down at the diminutive brunette head that leaned against his arm, and watched her chest swell with a deep inhalation, and he could not believe that this was happening, that he was sitting there, in his secretary's kitchen, falling for her daughter. Whereas ten minutes ago he had groped for delicate means by which to deduce her suitability, now he shied from the question, dreaded to ask it, and dreaded the probable reply even more, because there had to be a reason for her avoidance of that question, and for her unwillingness to answer it. Therefore he changed the subject yet again.
_____"What do you have to write?" he queried.
_____Jessica clutched his arm, and squeezed one small bit of his huge bicep with her tiny hand, and sternly admonished, "Shh, shh! Thinking."
_____"Okay..." he whispered, earning another "Shh, Sir, shh!"
_____A minute or two went by in complete silence, during which he just luxuriated in the fresh scent of her walnut hair. Jessica still stared at the paper, her shoulder and head nestled against his arm. She smelled so innocent and fresh that he found her almost unbearably appealing. He kept his right hand upon the table, toying with the coffee cup, lest he succumb to the temptation to let his hand wander down to her slender thighs and knees. She also pressed her leg up against his, with an obvious attempt at nonchalance, though her leg repeatedly found its way back to his, on the two occasions when he pretended to shift himself away. He had to take his mind off her body, and her warm proximity, and the way she made tentative contact in three or four places at once, and he had to shift to something else, so he forced himself to dwell upon the everpresent questions, as to her age, and the suitability of this meeting. The questions piled up on top of each other, ever more daunting, until they comprised an all but insurmountable edifice.
_____He whispered, "Jess—"
_____She glanced up at him, expectant, eyes glittering. Though he could not possibly have known it, she already deeply adored his enunciation of her name. Her full name. Neither Jess, nor Jessi, nor missy, nor girly, but Jessica. Of course he had also addressed her as Miss, previous to that moment, and since she strongly suspected he had verbally intended a capital 'M,' she silently hoped against hope that he would do it again. Jessica Elizabeth Turner resolved, then and there, that far worse fates awaited her, in this accursed life, than to be known ever and always, by one such as Dr. Nelson Spencer, as Miss.
_____"If you would just tell me what the assignment is, I could help, too."
_____She clutched his huge forearm with her pen hand and squeezed, saying, "You are helping, Sir; you are helping tons."
_____"I could help more."
_____She turned away, saying, "I bet you could! Okay, okay. It is a two page story. It starts out altogether awful, and ends up being good in the end. A plot twist."
_____He mused, "I can think of one."
_____"Sure, so can I. Today's been full of 'em, like me breaking up with Jimmy and stomping in, all out of sorts, to find you; and your nebulous plan to perhaps end it with, umm, Laura-or-whoever-she-is, so you can maybe make a home with someone better; and Dearest Mommy roping me in to pose for those nasty pictures— and honestly, whoever could have dreamt that one would have worked out." She looked up at him sweetly and summed up, "Last but not least, I most certainly did not count on you being you. Talk about a plot twist! But I sure can't write about you, oh no. And besides, all the other girls in class are gonna write about boys and princes and duels and stuff. I want my story to be different."
_____"So what do you have in mind?"
_____"Shhh!" Jessica insisted. All this time, Jessica had not let go of his forearm. She squeezed again and murmured, "Sheesh, Sir. Your arms are as solid as bone. You must be in phenomenal shape."
_____He replied, "You are no slouch yourself, Miss."
_____Nelson at that point had more to say, but he had to stop and do a doubletake, at the way she melted before his very eyes, pressed her head against his upper arm, and gently caressed him with her hair. He had no idea what had brought on her sudden rush of affection, but he earnestly hoped that he would inadvertently repeat whatever he had done to encourage her reaction. He cleared his throat and proceeded, "Don't think I haven't noticed that firm solar plexus of yours. Hard not to, in that outfit, of course. You should have to carry a license to show off that tummy in school."
_____She beamed up at him and replied in an offhand way, "Most girls show off their bellybuttons in school. I suppose not many really pull it off."
_____"I am sure that you do," he asserted.
_____Jessica shrugged, and with a theatrically conspiratorial whisper, confided, "Sometimes I think it attracts the wrong kind of attention, if you know what I mean, Sir."
_____"I do, because I must confess my attention is rather scattershot, this very moment."
_____This confession thrilled her, of course, but she regrouped and explained, "But then I say to myself, that I don't want to get a rep as a frumpy brainiac, so I just try to dress the way all the other girls do. There is nothing wrong with that, is there?"
_____"No," he said earnestly, "there is nothing wrong with that at all. Wanting to belong, I mean."
_____She considered this and said, "Huh. Thanks for the reassurance. Try as I might, I seldom succeed. Anyway, Colleen and I, we work out every day, and three days a week I participate in the after-school gymnastics program. Colleen, too. She is really buff. Gymnastics is on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. So you lucked out by coming to visit me on a Monday; you got to meet me in my very best and favorite school outfit. On gym days I would just wear old gray sweats to school over my leotard."
_____She had not yet removed her little hand from his forearm. Her fingers had drifted stealthily toward his hand, only to be rudely impeded by his silver and emerald cufflink. She glanced at the cold metal that her fingers had strayed upon, and she muttered, "Wow."
_____He said, "So, this is the best outfit you have for school?"
_____"It is okay isn't it?" she demanded, suddenly wary.
_____"Oh yeah, your outfit is great; it looks wonderful on you."
_____"Mom bought it for my birthday, in August. When we heard the news." Even as she said this, she bit her lip, ground her teeth, and cursed her big mouth. Nothing like begging the question. Some fucking genius, she silently cursed. Well, she had to admit to herself that she fancied him, and she knew, without a doubt, that she would never, ever attain him. Perhaps this slip was fortuitous. Perhaps she had known, subliminally, that it had to be done, and the sooner the better, so as to minimize the damage.
_____He looked at her quizzically, with an arched eyebrow, and waited for her rejoinder. She knew that he would wait forever. He had been flirting with the question ever since he had arrived.
_____She took her hand off his, stared up at the ceiling, and sighed. Then she finished, "When we heard the news, that I had been advanced straight from seventh grade to ninth."
_____"Ahhh," he said, and stared at the ceiling, too. The revelation, of course, meant not only that Jessica Elizabeth Turner was not a senior, but also that, had she not been a bona fide mathematics prodigy, she would still have been attending middle school.
_____Earlier in their conversation, having learned that she had been advanced a grade, he had declared that bright is beautiful. He had been impressed, since the moment she had set herself to her math homework, by her formidable talent as a natural human calculator. While on a rational plane her revelation should have launched him out of the front door at a sprint, it had the opposite effect. Nelson's desire for the girl— woman— expanded a hundred-fold in that moment. While he knew well the danger and futility of the attraction, it held him both enthralled and powerless.
_____Mrs. Carol Turner had played him masterfully, from the moment she had first stepped foot in his office. Somehow, he did not resent knowing that.
_____Jessica said, to the ceiling, "I suppose you have to go now."
_____He looked down at her. She rolled her eyes toward him, teeth and jaw set for his reply, as though facing a firing squad.
_____"As I said upon my arrival, my afternoon is free."
_____Jessica did not trust herself to speak. What could it mean? Possibly it did not matter to him that she was years younger than he had hoped, which quite possibly could have meant that he was a pervert, after all, and was titillated by the notion of coupling with an underaged girl. Another possibility: he had come here for her mother all along, which made Jessica's age irrelevant to him.
_____The final possibility: he fancied her, to such a degree that nothing else mattered, just as she fancied him, to the exclusion of any other mundane consideration. Possibly, just possibly, his attraction to her compelled him, to such an acute degree as to ensure that every other consideration paled. Jessica certainly did not regard Nelson as an 'older man.' She looked at him, with eyes wide open, and beheld nothing less than one of her possible futures.
_____Before she could retort, he stiffly declared, "In my opinion, you should be very proud. Being advanced a grade is quite an accomplishment. It is very rare, and it can only mean that you are an exceptionally bright and gifted young woman."
_____Jessica's first inclination, upon his declaration, was to burst into gales of laughter, fueled by skepticism and incredulity. Luckily, she recalled her mother's exhortation, to herself and Colleen, that they take rarely conferred compliments, paid by indulgent gentlemen, most seriously indeed.
_____She vividly recalled that morning, after Labor Day, when she had shown up at the bus stop to meet Colleen, Jimmy, and every other kid in the neighborhood destined to advance to the high school. She had stood there among them, and had remained with them, when the middle school bus had come and gone. Colleen had first noticed that Jessica had neglected to board the middle school bus, and had frantically informed Jessica that her brain had paused. Jessica had simply winked, and had said, "I think I shall ride on your bus this morning." That was when Mom had come out to snap the picture that now occupied a place of honor upon her work table, in its silver eight by ten frame. Jessica still recalled the open-mouthed shock of Colleen, Jimmy, Sammy, and everyone else, when she had walked into Abraham Lincoln Memorial High School with the rest of them, and had taken her rightful place in Miss Marshall's home room.
_____Jessica put her chin up and diffidently said to Nelson, "Everyone was very proud, but Mom, most of all. That is why she bought me this dress. She raided the rainy day fund and ran straight out to the mall, the moment she finished reading the letter from the school. Boy was Dad angry. For wasting the money, that is, which he had wanted to invest in Keno. But my being promoted meant so much to Mom. She simply couldn't let it go uncommemorated. I love her. Obviously. All the same, I am convinced I made out in the deal, and I don't buy this claptrap about my being especially bright. So I skipped eighth grade. Big deal. All it means is that the public schools in this slum really suck."
_____He roared with laughter.
_____Her Mom came around a corner to fetch the cookie tray, and had obviously overheard at least some of her daughter's monologue, because she crossly admonished, "Don't be modest, Jessica. You're a grade ahead, overloaded with sophomore and junior level college prep courses, and already top of your class."
_____Jessica watched her Mom bustle out, rolled her eyes at Nelson, and mouthed "My school does suck!"
_____He grinned, and then put on a serious expression to say, "Well it troubles me that you don't have more outfits that you are proud and pleased to wear. I think we might have to do something about that."
_____She looked up at him again, eyes narrow. She tapped her pen to her chin and softly said, "You don't have to buy me stuff to make me like you, Nelson. I would like you all the same, even if you didn't."
_____He replied, "You are absolutely right, and I am sorry that I have offended you."
_____Her eyes danced again, her tight lips turning to a smile, and she confided, "I did enjoy posing in your presents, Sir, irrespective of those things I had said before. In fact I am wearing one of the bras that you had given me, this very moment."
_____He drolly replied, "I have noticed, Miss."
_____She giggled, inordinately pleased that his form of address seemed to be turning into a habit, and she said, "Thanks again, by the way, for the lovely underwear. But honestly, you have already given me the best gift ever. I mean it, Sir. Try as you might, you will never, ever out-do what you have given me today."
_____Before Nelson could answer, Carol came back in and sat down, crossly saying, "That paper is still blank, young lady."
_____"Shhh, I'm thinking."
_____"What can you possibly be thinking about?" her mother demanded.
_____Nelson Spencer replied, "She needs to concoct a short story. I am helping."
_____Jessica looked up at Nelson, grinning ear to ear, her vivid imagination replete with visualizations of lampblack-garbed witches arrayed about a hearth and bubbling cauldron, conjuring and concocting a diabolical fiction that would regale them deep into the wee hours. Jessica adored Nelson's diction. She adored his angular, hewn chin. She adored his formidable intellect. She adored his hardness. She adored everything.
_____Carol's eyes narrowed, and she returned her attention to Jessica, saying, "You have a very important guest, young lady, and he is a busy gentleman with many other appointments. At this rate he'll be out the door before you finish your homework. You could save it for later."
_____Jessica retorted, "Nelson doesn't mind helping with my homework, do you, Sir?"
_____"Not in the least."
_____"Besides," she finished airily, "I have to see Colleen later, for aerobics and catching up. We are going to have loads to talk about."
_____"You tell her far too much," her mother accused.
_____Jessica changed the subject, and squeezed Nelson's forearm again. "Mom, have you noticed that Nelson is sooo hard?"
_____Carol looked mortified, and both Nelson and Jessica had a good laugh at her expense.
_____"I mean his muscles, of course. His muscles are just... so hard. Like bone, or rock, or the haft of an axe. Have you ever had occasion to feel his arm?"
_____Carol stiffly replied, "I can't say that I have, dear."
_____"Well, you should. You would be most impressed, as am I." Jessica looked up at Nelson and surmised, "You must work out every day, too."
_____Nelson replied, "As it happens, you and I have more in common than just math. I, too, played gymnastics in grade school, high school, and college. I work out every morning."
_____Jessica demanded, "Can you do rings?"
_____"Rusty. That is, I try. I was never all that good," he demurred modestly.
_____Jessica smirked and challenged, "Sure. Can you do an iron cross?"
_____Jessica exhaled rapidly, just gaping at him for several revolutions of the second hand, and then looked at her mother.
_____Carol looked back meaningfully at her daughter and urged, "Jessi? Can you please start that short story?"
_____Jessica shook her head, blinking, and said, "Yeah, sure. The Enola Gay."
_____Carol demanded, "The what?"
_____Nelson explained, "The plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima."
_____"You're going to write a story about an atomic bomb?"
_____"Yep," Jessica declared.
_____Carol was flabbergasted. "How do you even know about that?"
_____"You know, Mom, that afternoon terrorist cell I joined, when Dr. Spencer snatched you up and turned me into a latchkey kid."
_____"Ahhh. You know, young lady, I'm going to put you in after-school daycare, if you're not careful. Listen, I really do have to go down to the Clarks' to pick up Tommy. Do you think it would be alright if I left you alone with Dr. Spencer for a little while?"
_____Jessica grinned at her mother, looked up at Nelson appraisingly, and said, "Yes. I don't think he'll come to serious harm."
_____Carol snidely said, "Nelson, I think you're the one who has to worry. Okay, I'll be back. And try to finish that short story."
_____Jessica heard the door close, sighed with contentment, and snuggled against his arm again. He dared, at that point, to drape his arm over the back of her chair. He barely made contact with her shoulders. Jessica sat straight up to press her shoulders and neck against his arm; she panted, moaned, and stared at her blank college ruled paper.
_____He said, "My elbow was going numb, but I can move if this makes you uncomfortable."
_____"Don't you dare, Sir," she warned, and snuggled even closer. "This is so nice. You are so warm."
_____"It is cold in here," he indelicately observed. "Why is that?"
_____"Guess," she hissed. Then she said, by way of softening her rebuke, "I knew from your picture on the magazine that you were handsome. That is why I didn't mind, you know, posing for you. I mean, sure, I minded, especially, you know, the ones where I was naked. But I did it for Mom, as I have said, and if you had been just some ugly slob, I never would have done it, but you looked handsome in your portrait, and well, I was able to imagine you enjoying my pictures. By extension, I could imagine myself not minding, and that made me feel comfortable enough to do them. But I am really happy, in hindsight, that you are in such good shape, and so strong. And smart, too. Smarter than anyone I know. And you are nice to me. Very, very nice to me. Jimmy is just a fat little slob, and my uncles are just big fat slobs. Actually they are not really all that big, in the positive sense. Almost wider than they are tall, for the most part. Mom says I will be taller than them by the time I graduate, because her parents are tall. I hope Mom is correct. I would like to be tall. Tall women get more respect than short women, for whatever reason. I have an ulterior motive, of course. If I ever have daughters of my own, I will want them to be tall, as well. And confident, and assertive. More assertive than I have been, heretofore, that is. Anyway, I was only three or four years old the last time I saw my mother's parents— I cannot properly recall— so I forget what they look like. Back then, anyone would have looked tall, since I had stood less than a yard high myself. They disowned my mom."
_____"I am sorry to hear that."
_____"Don't be, Sir. They know where we live, yet they never call, never write. They have no use for us, so I have no use for them. But I do want to be tall. Everyone in this hovel are such shrimps. Women don't get respect unless they are tall. Anyway," she concluded, nuzzling her cheek against his chest, "all I am saying is, whoever this lady is whom you are interested in, she is a very lucky girl."
_____So, that was what she had been saying. He chuckled and said, "Thank you, Jessica, but if it works out, between this lucky girl and myself, I will have had, by far, the better half of the bargain."
_____She looked up at him, craning her neck, wishing he would kiss her, or touch more of her, or something, and she said, "That is very gallant of you, Sir. That is what I mean. She is so lucky." Jessica sighed and murmured, "I wish I were ten years older."
_____"Don't," he said. "Don't ever apologize for who you are. You are perfect as is."
_____She rolled her eyes, and tapped the pen on the blank paper, and said, "Well, someone thinks so. Thanks for that. Sir, could you please promise me something?"
_____He instantly responded, "Anything."
_____She looked up, giggling, and mused, "Wow. You don't even know what it is, yet."
_____He replied, "I know, and I don't care. Whatever it is, yes, I promise. So what is it?"
_____She looked at him with those narrowed eyes, and after the CD episode she had to think that he just might be serious. Jessica said, "You don't really have to, even though you promised; it is private and it is none of my business, and I don't know the circumstances, but, umm, if you do break it off with this woman, Laura? Just please be nice to her, okay, Sir? I'm not telling; I'm just asking."
_____"Why is it so important to you?"
_____"Because if I ever had to lose someone like you, it would break my heart, and I wouldn't want that to happen to me, so umm, just listen: you certainly are not obligated, on my say-so, and maybe this Laura has been a real bitch and deserves whatever is coming to her, but please, for me, just be nice."
_____"I will," he declared, without a moment's hesitation. "For you, I will be nice. I promise, Miss."
_____Dr. Nelson Spencer, Ph.D. had addressed her as Miss. Again. Could it possibly have become the start of a trend? "Thank you, Sir. You are so nice. You are good, a gentleman through and through. I just can't believe it. Umm, I wonder what time it is."
_____He flicked his left wrist, and she got a glimpse of a very expensive gold watch and sighed, "Wow."
_____He announced, "It is almost a quarter to five."
_____"I should start the short story."
_____"I will endeavor not to disturb your concentration."
_____She smiled and began her essay, remarking as she began to write, "I think I have caught you looking down my blouse a couple times, Sir."
_____He started and picked his head up, as he had been doing that very thing on the moment that she had made the observation. "I am male," he feebly admitted. "I can't help it. I hope you don't mind too much."
_____She giggled, and continued to write, saying, "I certainly don't mind that you are male, Sir. In fact, that you are male just might be what I like best about you. Also, I don't mind your looking. It makes me feel pretty. That you would bother to look, I mean. In fact I unbuttoned the top of my blouse in the bedroom, before coming back out. Because I had hoped you would want to look." She met his astonished eyes, winked, and returned to her short story, determined to keep her eye on the paper thenceforth, so his eyes could rove at will. "Besides, I am habitually looked at by uncles, teachers, students. Nondescript and largely interchangeable slobs. I would much rather be looked at by you, Sir."
_____With some indignation he demanded, "Even your teachers look at you?"
_____"Oh, yes. Being the youngest girl in my class, and being a virgin, as you well know, would make me a highly desirable piece of meat, even if I were an ugly cow."
_____"You are certainly not that," he reassured her.
_____She tossed her hair and demurely said, "Thank you, Sir. Your attention, in whatever form it may take, cannot possibly offend me. I am pleased that you enjoy looking at me."
_____"Jessica, I have to admit it: being only human, and being male, looking at you is enjoyable, indeed."
_____"I have noticed, Sir," she said, blushing, and scribbled away.
_____He admired her tiny, neat penmanship, and the way words just raced onto the paper. She had stared at the empty sheet for more than a half hour, but having come to a decision as to what to write, she now proceeded to jam as many words as possible onto both sides of the page.
_____She snuggled against him and said, "Sir, I have a confession. When I told my mother that you are very hard, I also meant, well, that." By way of explanation, she pointed her pen at his lap, after which she continued to write, even redder about the cheeks than before.
_____He asked, "Does it bother you?"
_____She looked up, shook her head rapidly, and blushed again whilst assuring him, "Oh no, Sir, not at all. Your arousal makes me very happy, Sir. It makes me feel pretty. I mean, more so than your just telling me I am pretty, and more so than your liking to look at me. Seeing you, umm, hard, is proof that you find me pretty. It makes me feel very good."
_____He squeezed her shoulder, drew her close, and said, "I am relieved that my arousal doesn't offend you, because I am afraid it can't be helped. I can only hope that I am not distracting you too much, and that I am a help to you. With your homework, I mean."
_____She smiled, inhaled deeply, and said, "Yes, you are, Sir, yes you are."
_____That moment the phone rang. He lifted his arm off her shoulder, and the break of contact irritated her somewhat, but it did obligate her to twist around to reach the phone on the kitchen island. Then, upon discovering that the caller was none other than Colleen, she instantly became exasperated by the intrusion. "I'll be down later. Something's come up."
_____A pause. Nelson busied himself with reading the first paragraph of her short story.
_____"No, I know I said right after school. But I'm busy. I'm sorry, but I have a visitor."
_____Another pause. Then, "Okay, okay, I will. I'll tell you about it later. Okay, bye."
_____She hung up the phone, groaned, and laughed. She explained, "Colleen thinks Jimmy barged in to beg and whine and propose and everything, the little menace. Sometimes, Sir, I don't know who annoys me more. My sad excuse for an ex-boyfriend, or my ridiculously attractive and presumptuous cousin."
_____She returned to her story. He sat up stiffly; he had obviously been reading it, while she had been otherwise diverted. She asked, "How does it sound so far?"
_____"Great. It is very good."
_____A small grin, and she resumed writing. After a few moments she whispered, "Umm, Sir, please, umm, would you mind, you know, holding me again? Please?"
_____He hastily returned his arm to her tiny shoulders, draped his hand down her slender right bicep, and caressed the smooth skin below her short sleeve. Jessica trembled and whispered, "That is so nice, Sir. No one ever, ever touches me like that."
_____He maintained the soft caress and murmured, "I don't want to distract you, Miss. But if this helps you with your homework...."
_____"Oh, it does, Sir, it definitely, most assuredly does. Trouble is, your touch feels so nice that you make me want to write about princes and castles, instead of ninety thousand people being evaporated by a nuke."
_____He chortled at this, and she laughed too, adding, "I like your laugh, Sir. It is distinguished."
_____"As opposed to what?"
_____She cocked her head, considered, and said, "Ohhh, belches, snorts, old men leaning out of windows, cackling like pre-menopausal bitches."
_____He roared with laughter, but distinguished laughter, which amused her.
_____She continued to write, apparently on autopilot, at her characteristically frenetic pace, during which a small corner of her brain devoted itself to relishing every contact of his gentle fingertips, and committing those sensations to memory, that she might relive them at will, whilst asleep. After awhile she remarked, "Mom is taking a long time coming back."
_____"How far away are the Clarks?" he inquired.
_____"Oh, not far. Two doors down. I suspect she is giving you time to have your way with me," she said, winking and giggling at his astonishment. "Anyway, I am done." And now, abandoning all pretense, Jessica set her pen down, turned her back to him, and leaned right back against his chest. With a little hand, she guided his unresisting arm right across her bare stomach.
_____His other hand, which had been toying with the empty coffee cup, came around and enclasped her tiny waist completely.
_____She pressed back against him, snuggling the top of her head under his chin. "Thank you for helping me with my homework, Sir."
_____She chuckled and taunted, "Boy, is that a promise you can't keep."
_____"I could!" he indignantly and perhaps rashly claimed.
_____"If I had my way, you would be over every afternoon," she declared. "Could you keep that schedule, Nelson?"
_____"No," he admitted, "I am afraid not; I do have to work. You are right: it was an exaggeration, but well intentioned."
_____She looked up at him, craning her neck to do so, and said, "But you would come back to visit? Once in a while?"
_____He looked down at her, his eyes just inches from hers, and she subliminally rounded her mouth for a kiss. He said, caressing her bare stomach, "I would never surprise you again, like I did today. I would await an invitation."
_____"But you would come?"
_____"Absolutely," he declared.
_____He did not move any closer to kissing her, and if she tried to kiss him, she was sure that she would ruin it, so she looked down at his huge hands and pulled his arms tightly into her, encouraging him to bear-hug her. In the process she managed to touch one of her palms to his, and observed how her entire hand, from wrist to fingertips, was smaller than just his palm, and how his fingers had to be more than half the length of her entire forearm. And in the midst of her warm reverie, snuggling in Nelson's embrace, warm and toasty and squishy, feeling more loved than she had in a long, long time, by a perfect man who was at least ten years too old for her and had women flocking behind him down the street and who could never be interested in a pathetic freaky little stick like her, the parlor door opened and closed. Before either Jessica or Nelson could react, Tommy had burst through the hallway into the kitchen, straight to the refrigerator.
_____Then Mom came around the corner, smiled, and said, "Aren't we cozy?"
_____Jessica snapped right up with a jolt, and so did Nelson. Carol had an amusing vision of how her daughter and Jimmy must have reacted when they had been bagged by Billy last week.
_____Jessica guiltily stammered, "We were just resting!"
_____Carol grinned and urged, "Relax. You two looked absolutely precious."
_____Tommy came around the corner with a few Twinkies, went to sit down, and gaped at Jessica and the grown man beside her.
_____"Tommy," Carol sternly said, "put your tongue back in your mouth. I told you on the way back here that Jessica has a tutor today. Say hello to Dr. Spencer."
_____Tommy just stared.
_____Carol shook her head and whispered, "Shy." She rounded upon Tommy and commanded, "Get in the living room, you little scamp."
_____Tommy backed out of the room, still clutching his Twinkies.
_____"And you, Jess, please tell me you have that story done."
_____Jessica brightly replied, "Yep. Wanna read it?"
_____"No, no. I'm sure I wouldn't understand it. Does Nelson like it?"
_____Nelson stiffly provided, "I am certain that Jessica's teacher will find the story satisfactory."
_____Jessica giggled and fell back against him, repeating the original pose, and when Nelson hesitated to completely restore the former embrace in the presence of witnesses, Jessica took one of his hands in hers, and put her entire hand in his palm, and said, "Mom, look how big Nelson's hands are."
_____Carol, with whatever dignity she could muster, said, "Nelson is a big man all over, honey." Her lips made a wry gesture to Nelson, who did not respond.
_____Jessica craned her head up at him in that singular and indefinable way that made him want to devour her, and she inquired, "What size shoes do you wear, Sir?"
_____"Fifteen," he replied.
_____"Wow," she said.
_____Carol thought it high time for a change of subject. "Honey, Nelson will have to be going soon. It is almost five thirty."
_____Jessica leapt off her chair and brightly said, "One thing left to do, before he goes. Pushup competition! Dr. Spencer works out, too." She glared at Nelson and challenged, "First to reach a hundred!"
_____He stood up, and she realized, for perhaps the first time, just how tall he was. He stood six feet, eight inches tall, and little Jessica's crown barely came up to his ribcage. Perhaps perilously undeterred, she led him into the living room.
_____ Nelson asked, "What's the wager?"
_____Jessica taunted, "Oooh, bold! The gentleman desires a wager. Okay, if I win, you have to come help me with my homework again, and if you win, you're off the hook."
_____"Deal!" he said, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically for Jessica's taste.
_____As they assumed the position, with Nelson still in his business suit and Jessica still in her polka dot dress, she glared at him and growled, "You're toast, Nelson Spencer!"
_____He growled back, "We'll see, Miss."
_____Tommy, on the couch with three packs of Twinkies, just gaped with his mouth full of cake and frosting.
_____Carol stormed in and said, "Oh, for Godsakes, Jessica, can't you change into play clothes first? And Nelson, you're still wearing your jacket, and you're going to ruin your shoes."
_____Jessica yelled, "Just say go, Mom, and keep count! I'm gonna kick his ass!"
_____Carol cried, "Language, Jessica Elizabeth!"
_____Jessica grinned at Nelson and said, "Oooh, the middle name. Now I'm really in trouble. And my middle name was my last secret, you scurvy cur."
_____The double entendre behind that last declaration nearly floored both Nelson and the mother, since Nelson had seen digital photos— now destroyed— of Jessica's most intimate secret by far. Nelson reacquired his wits and growled, "Watch who you're calling scurvy, Miss Jessica Elizabeth."
_____Jessica yelled, "Say go, Mom! He's mine! Say go!"
_____Carol was so shocked by Jessica's impetuous presumption and Dr. Spencer's avid acceptance of it that she could barely function, so Tommy beat her to the punch, and from the couch, spat out a mouthful of cake and frosting as he yelled, "GO!"
_____Both Nelson and Jessica went off to the races, and Carol had trouble keeping up with the count. She suspected Nelson could have gone faster, but was holding back. Still, she felt her loins melting as she watched him throw himself up and down, barely having to break a sweat. Yet there was little Jessica, keeping right up with him.
_____Nelson yelled, "Try this!" He threw an arm behind his back and proceeded one-handed.
_____Jessica snarled, "Two can play at that game, Nelson!"
_____Little did Carol know that by using his first name, Jessica had hurled a deeply offensive insult at the man, and in response he hissed, as he threw himself up and down, "Little bitch."
_____Jessica retorted, "Bastard."
_____Carol gasped, "Jessica Elizabeth Turner!"
_____Carol returned to counting, quite aflutter, and at the same time with arm gestures attempted to stop Tommy from jumping up and down on the couch, but Tommy was too busy hollering and shaking his fists and yelling, "Go, go, go!" By the time they rounded eighty repetitions, they at least had gone back to using two hands, yet according to Carol's assessment, as they passed ninety, the race was still a dead heat.
_____Jessica hissed, "I thought you said you worked out, liar!"
_____He taunted, "Prepare to lose, Miss!"
_____And now, closing in on a hundred, Jessica intentionally slowed down, and he did, too.
_____This put his rival in a fit of giggles. "Not very sporting," she accused.
_____"I am determined to win, Miss." They went slower. Ninety-eight.
_____"You're trying to let me win."
_____"Am not," he insisted, rising even slower.
_____She mused aloud, "Is it chivalry, or pity, or does Dr. Spencer want to keep being my homework helper?"
_____"In your dreams, Miss."
_____They had stopped dead, half-up, half-down. Jessica winked at him and said, "Got that right, Sir." Then they sprinted again, up past one hundred, and to one-ten, still in a dead tie, until Nelson Spencer rolled over onto his back, panting, and Jessica followed suit, put her head on his chest, and held her sweaty tummy in a fit of giggles.
_____Tommy demanded, "Who won? Who won? Mom, who won?"
_____Carol shook her head with something between delight, incredulity, and fear at what she had started, and murmured, "I think they've both won."
_____Jessica rolled over onto him, and they looked at each other. Her hair fell askew. He wiped sweat off his brow. She said, "You have to go now, don't you?"
_____He nodded, with honest regret.
_____She put out a hand and said, "Shake."
_____He took her hand.
_____As they shook, she made an expression reminiscent of a damsel in the throes of a faint. Then she stood up with a leap. He stood up too, and they still held hands. She looked back at her mother, who passed the heavy briefcase off to Nelson and gestured for her daughter to scoot. Jessica led the way to the door, her little hand still in his.
_____Carol forcibly shut the parlor door, so that Tommy could not listen or spy.
_____Jessica barred the way to the front door and looked up at Nelson searchingly, murmuring, "Boy oh boy, is she gonna be a lucky girl."
_____He nodded and agreed, without thinking, "She will make him a lucky boy, as well." Only in hindsight did he realize that he had just hurt her feelings, when his intention had been anything but.
_____Her lips quivered, but she forced herself to look up at him. "I am very happy," she said. "Immeasurably happy."
_____"You deserve to be happier," he told her.
_____"Not possible," she declared.
_____"Oh, yes it is."
_____She shook her head and threw herself against him, and he gently returned the hug. She pressed her head against his heart, and did not have to crouch to achieve it. "No, no it's not," she insisted. "Not possible for me to be happier than I am right now. But you don't have to come back. I understand. You are twenty-six, and I am... well, I am too young for you. As you know all too well. And you have women... real women. I understand."
_____"I will come back," he obstinately and perhaps rashly promised.
_____She looked up at him resentfully, and accused, "You are teasing me again."
_____He looked down at her, held her at arms length, and said, "Please listen, Jessica Elizabeth. I will visit you again. But not to surprise you. I will await your invitation."
_____She defiantly challenged, "Tomorrow, then."
_____He shook his head and said, "No, not tomorrow. You have school. You have to work very hard. I have a difficult job. Why don't you take some time to think about how you feel, and perhaps invite me on Friday, if you are still resolved on the matter."
_____She saw her chances diminishing to nothing. She wanted to try the crass ploys that her mother had taught Colleen and herself. Jessica frantically thought, gotta get him to kiss me, gotta let him grope my ass, gotta grab his package, hold it, squeeze it, let him know he can have anything, let him know yes, he can have me now, anything he wants; why did I wreck the CD; could have given it back to him, told him it's okay for him to use my pictures anyway he wants, to fantasize about using me in every way possible, just to keep him thinking about me, and now the pictures are gone and he's already lost interest and he's going, he's going, damn it, damn it, damn it!
_____With fiery, almost accusatory eyes, she demanded, "Would you please write to me, then?"
_____"Yes," he replied, without a moment's hesitation.
_____Her fragile heart gave a leap.
_____Before she could scoff at the likelihood, he added, "That is an excellent idea, Jessica. And real letters, not the cheesy, childish kind from last week. I will write you every day and send the letters home with your Mom, starting tonight."
_____She inhaled deeply, forgot to breathe, and threw herself against him, her heart pounding. From his chest, a muffled soprano question, "May I please write to you, as well?"
_____"I would be saddened if you didn't," Nelson replied.
_____"I will write every day," she promised, "starting tonight."
_____"I will look forward to your letters every day."
_____She nodded, clutched him even tighter, and then stepped aside of the door. "Okay. Okay, Sir. Go. Thank you. And please remember my request."
_____He frowned with a bemused smile and asked, "Which one?"
_____She opened the door for him and said, "To please be nice to her!"
_____He nodded significantly, and as he stepped out the door, he blew her a kiss that hit her full force. She shut the door, locked it, opened the inner parlor door, and danced a jig, shrieking happily.
_____Tommy, the little bug, just watched with bewilderment. Surely the little jerk would rat her out, no matter how much Mom pleaded that he desist, but Daddy had the graveyard shift tonight, and she had school the next day, so Tommy could rat her out and it wouldn't matter until tomorrow night at the earliest, and by then Nelson would have received her letter, and she would have received his letter, and nothing else would matter. Even if Dad flew off the handle and tanned her butt again, the pain and humiliation would be well worth the promised exchange of letters.
_____Carol watched her daughter pirouette and amusedly surmised, "So it went well, then."
_____Jessica took her mother's hands and pulled, dragged her out of earshot of Tommy, who inexplicably tried to follow, incapable of getting the hint, forcing Jessica to slam her bedroom door in his face.
_____Her mother said, "So he's not so bad, is he?"
_____"Oh, Mom," she cried, clutching her breast, and then just lapsed into a big smile, at a loss for words.
_____They sat on the bed, hand in hand.
_____"You look as though maybe he kissed you, out on the porch."
_____She shook her head, and then nodded, and gasped. "He didn't, but he did, in a way; he blew me a kiss. Mom, he says he'll come back if I ask him, but guess what?"
_____"I give up."
_____"He's going to write to me every day until then, and I'm going to write to him."
_____Carol looked back furtively at the headboard, where Nelson Spencer's first communiqué to Jessica was pinned. She followed Mom's gaze, fervently shook her head, and dismissively explained, "Not like that stupid note. Real letters. About me, and about him. No boy— no man— has ever written me a real letter, or read one of mine. Isn't that great?"
_____Carol quietly said, "It sure is." Strange, she reflected, that she should feel her maternal protective instinct flaring up over the prospect of a letter exchange, after having posed the girl in soft pornographic shots.
_____Jessica went on, by way of explanation, "Do you know what he did? What he gave to me?"
_____Carol squeezed Jessica's hands and said, "Yes, I confess I do. I was listening in the hallway. Giving the photo album back to you was a very courteous and noble thing for him to do."
_____"It sure was," Jessica declared with fiery conviction. "But I have good news, Mom, good news for you."
_____"Well, you're right: he does have another girlfriend. He confirmed it to me. But he says they haven't been good for each other for a long time, and he is breaking up with her, maybe tonight. And he also says he is interested in someone else. He was kind of shifty when he talked about her, trying not to let on, you know?"
_____Carol slowly urged, "Yesss....?"
_____Jessica, in hushed wonder, said, "Well, don't you think, with Nelson giving my pictures back and letting me destroy them, and seeing as he's breaking it with this other girl, and given that he has promised to come back to the house if I ask him, well, umm, don't you think it is possible that he is really secretly interested in you, after all?"
_____Carol just smiled down at her daughter, and held her cheek tenderly, and felt a tear roll down her eyes, but did nothing to stop its descent.
_____"Mom? Mom? It could be true, it could! He might like you after all, and he just needs time to show it."
_____Her mother quietly said, "Skipped eighth grade, straight to high school, and top of your class, my love, but you're really not all that bright after all, are you?"
_____Jessica just stared at her mother, with incomprehension, and Carol mused aloud, "But why should I be surprised? How could you know, so young and inexperienced...."
_____"What? Know what? Mom, what?"
_____Carol gave her little girl a hug and said, "You've managed a miracle today, honey. Oh, Dr. Nelson Spencer Ph.D. is certainly very interested in one woman in this household, but that someone is not me."
_____Jessica stared at her mother with giant eyes, hands over her mouth, the way she had first encountered Nelson in their parlor.
_____Carol stood up briskly, saying, "Change your clothes and visit Colleen before you forget, or she'll really be upset. But please don't tell her much about this. Lie if you have to. I am going to have to work very hard to square it with your father as it is. You can start that letter after dinner. And when you write it, remember: just be yourself. You should know now, my dear, that you, being yourself, are exactly what Nelson wants."
_____Jessica fell backward and hugged her pillow, and in a strangled soprano she murmured, "I love you, Mom!"
_____Carol responded, "I love you, honey," and backed out, gently shutting the door.
More to come.