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Thread: Beauty

  1. #1
    Precious princess
    Sexual orientation : N/D clarise's Avatar
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    Default Beauty

    _____I would like to share a little story (or two, or three). For as long as the thread lasts.
    _____The first little story is a romance called Nascent.
    _____Without further ado...

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  2. #2
    Precious princess
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    Default Chapter 1: Conception, Pt. a

    by Aesexual Pseudonym
    Chapter 1: Conception
    _____A girl ran in. Her hair was rainy.
    _____Her breasts were breathless in the little room.
    _____Outside the rain was falling and it cried,
    ____________too soon. Too soon.
    ________________________________—Lawrence Ferlinghetti

    _____Jessica Elizabeth Turner reclined upon a patch of moss and clover, where she had been trying to fall asleep, so as to summon a dream. She lay upon her back, sandwiched between the weather worn fence and the one remaining wall of the collapsed shed, and gazed up at the sky, with her head against a dilapidated dictionary.
    _____From her recumbent perspective she could see nothing but the walls to either side and the powder-blue sky above. Here she enjoyed complete solitude, a rare luxury within her extended family's crowded domain. Though her bedroom conferred a modicum of privacy, the four narrow walls had no windows, and Jessica could not bear to be cooped up inside on this lovely early autumn day. True, shards of the dingy sun punched through elsewhere on the second story flat of her grandparents' triple decker, but Jessica could not tolerate the noise, between her six year old brother's video games and the incessant pounding of indigent feet up and down the worn, squeaky stairs.
    _____Apart from the fulfillment of her desire for quiet, the fleeting tranquility of her sanctuary afforded other compensations. She had come home from school to find her mother out again, and had recalled that Mom had recently committed herself to join the ranks of the gainfully employed. Evidently Mom had ventured forth that morning on yet another round of interviews.
    _____Today happened to be one of Dad's days off.
    _____Dear Father worked the graveyard shift at the metal stamping plant down Route Ninety-Nine, and ordinarily would have fled the house by now, off to one of the neighborhood bars, to fortify himself for an arduous evening of pushing sheetmetal in and out of a hydraulic press. Being a marginal producer on the shop floor, the plant foreman called him in on an unpredictable schedule that usually involved at least one day on the weekend, when more productive workers requested time off. Consequently, the shop supervisor habitually instructed Daddy to stay at home on random weekdays. On these impromptu mini-vacation days, he would sleep through the morning, drag himself out of bed sometime around lunch, pop a few beers simultaneously, fill the stagnant rooms with stale cigarette smoke, and wait for Jessica to disembark from the school bus so he could ogle her in the hallway, berate her nonsensically, and grope for thin pretexts to take his belt off. On this particular afternoon she had come home to find him passed out on the sprung couch, but he would awaken eventually, flail about in his stupor, and make the typical nuisance of himself. Best to make oneself scarce, the young woman had long since learned.
    _____Were it not such a nice day, Jessica would have shut herself in her bedroom, and barricaded the door with her bureau, but on lovely afternoons such as this, she would come out to this secluded patch, upon the moss and clover, long since cleared of glass shards and rusty nails. She would bring her book bag and her tattered dictionary, and nestle into an attitude of repose, to gaze up at the sky and imagine herself alone at the center of an endless flowered meadow.
    _____Now Jessica silently recited her multiplication tables, a diversion she had been practicing for years, whenever she wished to inure herself to the general unpleasantness.
    _____She intoned, with a soft whisper, a self-administered lullaby, "Forty-six times thirty seven; one thousand seven hundred two. Forty-six times thirty-eight; one thousand seven hundred forty-eight. Forty-six times thirty-nine...."
    _____The resultant distraction, in and of itself, provided justification enough for the exercise, since the circumstances of her existence all too often vexed her. Yet if she could manage to lull herself to sleep out here, that would be a bonus, because then she could select from one of her favorite dreams, and sojourn there for awhile. She had devoted most of the previous evening to homework, and had managed just an hour of fitful slumber between four-thirty AM and sunrise, so there had been insufficient time for idle transports. Dreams were her very favorite sort of escapism. She had several favorites, preferred either for the characters who dwelt there or for their milieux. She could summon them at will, not only to relive them, but to hone and perfect them. Directing her dreams had been her favorite game throughout her childhood and life thus far. She had never met anyone else who could do it, so this gift remained her very best kept secret. Jessica did not appreciate being called a freak, and she heard it far too often, her secrets notwithstanding. No sense in adding additional fuel to the fire.
    _____For the past month, since the start of term, Jessica's homeroom and math teacher, Miss Marshall, had been drilling the class on the times tables up to twelve times twelve— material that the class really should have mastered long before having been shunted up yet again through the dysfunctional public school system. Miss Marshall excused Jessica from these drills. Most of her classmates supposed, uncharitably, that she could not handle the exercise and received a special dispensation by having been excused. Miss Marshall knew better, and simply gave Jessica leave to do whatever she pleased during math hour. Jessica's diversions at such times typically involved math drills, undertaken in solitude, that Miss Marshall could not have begun to comprehend. Miss Marshall had informed the school administrators, within two weeks of the start of term, that Jessica belonged in a higher grade, but the principal and superintendent had struck this proposition down summarily, as being politically impossible.
    _____Jessica Turner, unbeknownst to her classmates, was a bona fide mathematics prodigy. No one fully appreciated the extent and verity of this statement; neither her parents, nor Miss Marshall, nor even Jessica herself. She had always been able to do "math tricks" in her head. She thought nothing of this arcane talent. Whereupon most people might have counted sheep, Jessica calculated pi. Yet no one had ever discovered her prowess, or called to her attention its singularity, because she lived in a place, and in a time, when such faculties, especially among women, held no value. Most of the adults in her vicinity placed far more value on her slender, muscular legs and lean, athletic frame. Jessica had a heart shaped face accentuated by a pale button nose; large, expressive chocolate brown eyes to match her waist-length umber hair, and full lips that glistened like raspberry ribbon candy arrayed on a silver dish. The young woman's burgeoning physiognomy gave Dearest Father and her uncles a hell of a lot to ponder, and they seldom got around to dwelling on her far more formidable brain.
    _____The precocious young lady also toyed idly with memories of erstwhile infatuations, as she stared at the powder-blue sky, recited her times tables, and tried to fall asleep.
    _____She enjoyed her ruminations on boys— not with any particular objective in mind, since she fancied no one especially— but merely as a conveyance whereby she might successfully transport herself into dreams. Truth be told, she did enjoy the idle contemplation of boys, in the lulls between episodes of more productive cogitation. Mom often advised Jessica that she was too lusty for her own good, and warned her that she would likely be swept away if she were not careful. She had thus far skirted the perils of romantic infatuation, perhaps due to her insistence on filling twenty-one hours of every day with academic studies punctuated by her brief yet intense daily workout regimen of jogging, gymnastics, and calisthenics. The young woman very much enjoyed being a girl at heart, and did not begrudge her persistent reprieve from romantic attachment, having thus far encountered no practical use for the dubious social elevation that awaited her. All the same, Jessica's idle and harmless reflections upon this boy or that could almost convince her that romance might constitute a constructive diversion. She had endured the attentions of a particular neighborhood boy over the past summer, a self-possessed and shifty specimen named Jimmy, more or less under duress. She suspected that romance could be a whole lot better, with proper inspiration. But it would take more than Jimmy.
    _____So, Jessica pined. For what, she could not have said.
    _____"Forty-six times fifty-three; two thousand four hundred thirty-eight. Forty-six times...."
    _____Her natural prowess for mathematics was, in fact, consequential to more subtle gifts: not only her talent for manipulating her dreams, but also her ability to glance at a page of text for just a moment, and then recite its contents from memory hours later; and an ability to visualize objects, seen at a glimpse, rotated through all three dimensions, and an intrinsic skill for solving problems of almost any sort geometrically, by assigning spatial orientation to their parameters. She had been able to visualize complex problems, as though they were fantastically intricate sculptures, for as long as she could remember. She thought little of these gifts, apart from the unarticulated conviction that complex problems were more easily solved by means of visualization. In her naivety, Jessica could have no appreciation for the singularity of these talents; she assumed, perhaps forgivably so, that everyone around her possessed similar abilities and chose to squander them. Hence, she harbored resentment for anyone who, for whatever reason, neglected to aspire, and failed to thrive. She lived in a place wherein such resentment, and disappointment, came to her all too commonly. She wanted very much to flee her family, her neighborhood, and her life, and had long since resolved to escape at the first opportunity. That was why she studied every day, and most nights, too. When she was not studying, she observed, watched, waited for that sublime moment, when she could make a run for it.
    _____Jessica inadvertently distracted herself from escapist rumination with idle recollections of Jimmy, the capriciously motivated fling from down the street. Jimmy, she recalled with a pensive shudder, had been her boyfriend over the summer.
    _____The 'boyfriend' concept, the fact that she had possessed a boyfriend, struck her as ironic, given that she seldom had need of anyone, much less a touchy, grabby boy, and being a young woman who still cherished her essential girlhood, she had no visceral appreciation of the particular uses that girls had for boys in the first place. Oh, of course she knew that boys made babies in girls, and she had learned the mechanics long ago, when Mom had explained the rudiments of the five minutes of caloric expenditure that men imparted to the perpetuation of the species. But Jessica could scarcely imagine herself juxtaposed with a baby, and would not have wanted a baby even if she were old enough to rear one, and so even that utilitarian use for boys struck the young lady as being inapplicable to her experience. Jessica, who had barely enough time to allocate to herself, could scarcely fathom why she needed a boyfriend, except that her cousin Colleen, who lived downstairs, and who also had a boyfriend, had insisted that Jessica needed one, too.
    _____Colleen, by far the prettiest girl in her grade, had the benefit of choices, and over the summer she had selected a boyfriend named Sammy. Colleen had reached third base with Sammy in mid-July, and since their relationship had been so hot and heavy, Jessica just could not have gone on tagging along with the happy pair all summer as a third wheel. That would have been out of the question, not only for its awkwardness, but also for the fact that Colleen, objectively beautiful by any measure, inexplicably regarded skinny, nerdy little Jessica as competition. So Sammy had fixed Jessica up with Jimmy, who had spent the last two weeks of July and the first two weeks of August trying to get to third base, too.
    _____Jessica had complained to Colleen, once, that Jimmy grabbed and touched too much—especially in Sammy's basement, a cool, dank place with charcoal shades over the windows, a good place to hide and neck on hot summer days. Sammy had the house to himself during the mornings and afternoons, apart from a couple older sisters who used the single bathroom as a pit stop, and a nineteen year old brother who ignored the kids and split his time almost equally between an outdated Nintendo playset and the methadone clinic down the street.
    _____"Come on, Jess, you need a boyfriend if you want to hang with us this summer, right? Jimmy's cute, and you like him a little bit, don't you?"
    _____"I suppose I do, but he is always trying to pull my shorts down and grope me."
    _____"Well he is a boy, you know. That's what boys do. He's just having fun. Relax and let him fool around a little bit; it won't kill you." Colleen added, with a giggle, "Besides, with any luck, the little pervo might accidentally do something you actually enjoy."
    _____Jessica cynically muttered, "I couldn't imagine what."
    _____"Well," Colleen persisted irrepressibly, "Sammy does stuff I enjoy, every once in a while; though I'll grant you, when it happens, he does it in spite of himself. I mean, like, he sure as hell doesn't have any idea what a girl's parts are for."
    _____The girls giggled, and Jessica reluctantly agreed to endure Jimmy's groping, for Colleen's sake.
    _____Jessica had tried to hold coherent discussions with Jimmy, once or twice. Those attempts had not worked out. All of their brief and furtive flirtations with conversation devolved almost immediately to groping, and kissing, and whining from Jimmy, who wanted to do more with Jessica, far and away, than she wanted to do with him. Jimmy had chosen the occasion of their second so-called date to declare, with an emphatically irrational exuberance, that he had needs now, and had somehow convinced himself that it should be Jessica's job to service those needs, even though he kissed like an eel and made her feel dirty, having as she did an absence of reciprocal feelings, and no needs whatsoever, that she could discern, apart from the need to have permission to hang out with her older, beautiful cousin over the summer instead of being left behind in the stuffy triple decker with no one for company but a drunken, ogling father and a six year old brother whose eyes were permanently transfixed to his Playstation.
    _____It got to the point where Jimmy grew so frustrated by Jessica's obliviousness to his needs that he decided to resort to the "lead by example" method. Now, if Jimmy had been older and wiser than the inexperienced youth that he was, he might have attempted to give a bit of pleasure to Jessica, for sake of incentive. Instead, being a rather simplistic boy who lacked both foresight and patience, he decided instead to stand in front of the girl and masturbate, to show her how it was done. Jessica watched the ninety second procedure with an ashen expression, and jumped clear of the fetid little splashes just as Jimmy reached his happy moment. On the one subsequent episode, which occurred on the following day, Jessica grudgingly agreed to "touch it," but only briefly, before Jimmy gave up on her and took over with the panting admonishment that she wasn't "doing it right." Consequently, by virtue of a confluence of events entirely tangential to her personal needs and concerns, Jessica had touched her first erect penis that summer. And while the accomplishment meant nothing to her personally, she did very much enjoy the bragging rights that it afforded. Still, she had no intention of repeating the episode, if she could help it, even if that meant having to spend the remainder of summer break barricaded behind her bedroom door.
    _____Jessica had avoided both Colleen and puerile Jimmy for two weeks after that. Eventually she had agreed to hang around with them again, but never alone with Jimmy.
    _____Now school had resumed, and Sammy had dumped Colleen to commemorate his triumphant completion of another summer (though Colleen had icily insisted that the breakup had been mutually amicable). Jessica had supposed that the heartrending termination of Colleen's summer romance would have absolved her of having to persist in stringing Jimmy along. She had tried to end it with Jimmy entirely, but he had obstinately refused to consign himself to this fact.. Despite her many subtle and not so subtle attempts to convey to him that he had worn out his usefulness, he persisted in carrying on like a pathetic sluggard who had been served divorce papers and couldn't take the hint. One morning, on the school bus, on the day after Jessica's third attempt to effect a breakup, Jimmy had even presented her with a poem, scrawled on lined paper, which she had absently marked down for grammatical deficiencies as she had pretended to read it.

    _____jess you still
    _____act like a kid
    _____but i don't care
    _____cause of what we did
    _____i love you most
    _____causeyourthe best
    _____like why would i ever
    _____check out the rest?


    _____He had doodled a flower beside his name, with a red ballpoint. Touching. Jimmy had sent her roses.
    _____Jessica had closed her eyes very tightly, had repeated to herself over and over that Jimmy's effort had been utterly sincere, in order to prevent herself from laughing. She had thanked him tersely, and had refused to say another word, despite all his cajoling and begging and threats.
    _____Beside himself with frustration over her lack of appreciation, he had given up on subtlety. "You'll never find anyone as good as me, and you know it, you freaky little stick," he had declared, exploiting his full capacity for sensitivity, as they had stepped off the bus.
    _____Jessica had steeled herself and walked.
    _____"You know, Colleen's cool, and she's practically your big sister. What the fuck is your problem?"
    _____Jessica had glared straight ahead while Colleen, within earshot, had raised a fist and had warned Jimmy to keep her out of it. Jessica had picked up her pace.
    _____"Damn it, come on, wait! Jess!"
    _____"It's Jessica," she had asserted stoically.
    _____"Whatever! Come on, summer's over, but we can still hang out, right? Like, what else is there to do?" he had demanded.
    _____"School, Jimmy, and homework."
    _____"I hate fucking school," he had muttered, as though he were jealous of the attention Jessica gave to it.
    _____"Well I love school," she had declared. Perhaps she had put it too strongly; in fact school bored her, though she did love her homeroom and math teacher, Miss Marshall. "And I love homework even more," she had added, to rub it in.
    _____"School sucks, and you're a fucking freak."
    _____She could have lived with that denunciation if it would have meant the end of their magical romance, but he would be back. She had heard it before, after all. For a boy who ended most of their conversations with invective, he did seem remarkably persistent. Someday she hoped she would be subjected to half this level of tenacity from someone she actually cared about. In a way, Jimmy's obsession presaged a heady future, but then again, Jessica tried very hard, at all times, to see the best side of everything. She summarily decided that Jimmy had to be either crazy or conflicted. But Jessica was no mother hen, and could have cared less about Jimmy's demons, so once again, she left him on the sidewalk to suffer.
    _____"Fifty-three times eighty-two, four thousand three hundred forty-six...."
    _____The burgeoning math prodigy gave up on her times tables, having convinced herself that they would not induce her to doze off, and reverted to reciting primes. For the past few years she had been calculating primes entirely in her head, by factoring odd numbers in ascending series, ever since she had stumbled upon the Sieve of Erastothenes in the reference section of her public school library.
    _____By now she had identified and memorized all of the primes up into the hundreds of billions, without the aid of a calculator, much less a computer. The idea of elemental, indivisible numbers enthralled Jessica to a degree that Jimmy never could.
    _____Atoms—the stuff that made the weather worn fence, the rusted shed, the powder-blue sky, and the pile of glass shards and rusty nails that she had cleared from this tranquil bed of moss and clover— were comprised of only one hundred six elements, even counting the esoteric specimens that popped into existence in mushroom clouds and fizzled a zillionth of a second later, mixed with gaseous viscera. The elements that made numbers— the primes— went up and up forever, and lasted for eternity.
    _____Jessica loved numbers. No silly boy— or man, for that matter— could ever come close.
    _____It was harder being home now than ever before, because her mother had recently ventured out into the working world, to beat herself up against fruitless interviews. Jessica loved Mom, even though she had her own strange idiosyncrasies, which in some respects stood out even in their unconventional household. Mom protected Jessica from Dear Father whenever she could, and she was great for female camaraderie, and for advice about men, and feminine changes. But Mother was certainly a strange bird, a fact that even youthful, naive Jessica could adroitly discern and could not ignore.
    _____Mom held nothing but contempt for Dad, for instance. Not that there was so much odd in this fact, on cursory inspection. After all, Dear Father hardly garnered respect, being an archetypal example of one who both squandered his intrinsic gifts and failed to thrive. But Dad was hard up for sex most of the time, which made life that much more difficult for Jessica, and the daughter laid blame entirely on her mother. That he was hard up exacerbated his unprovoked tendency to leer at Jessica and undress her with his eyes. Jessica credited her Daddy's improprieties, perhaps unfairly, to the fact that Mom had no use for him and had left him high and dry ever since Tommy had been born.
    _____When Mother had given Jessica the 'sex talk,' more than four years ago, it had really just been a preamble to a more embarrassing and momentous topic. That was when Mom had explained that Dad almost certainly had not been Jessica's biological father. "He might as well be, though, since I have it narrowed down to fifty-fifty, and regardless, if he is not your real Daddy, he is at least family."
    _____Jessica had paled, and had fought back the compulsion to wonder just who, in their extended clan of layabouts, drunkards, and misfits, held the dubious honor of being responsible for her paternity. Instead, she had asked her mother a more pragmatic question. "So should I still call him Daddy?"
    _____"Of course, honey. You'd break his heart if you didn't, and he drinks too much as it is."
    _____"And what about Tommy?"
    _____Mom had bitten her lip, and had refused to answer, except to say, "Don't think too badly of me, sweety. Most of my choices were taken from me long ago."
    _____Jessica had not pressed. Her mind had swirled with questions, but she could not have had any means of knowing which ones would set Mom's tears flowing, and she did not like to see her mother cry—an occurrence that transpired too often for Jessica's liking. One essential question had nagged at her, however, one that she had felt absolutely compelled to ask.
    _____"Mom, is that why— with Daddy not really being my Daddy and all— is that why he thinks he can look at me funny in the bath?"
    _____Jessica had found it necessary to take a step back, as Mom's face had briefly contorted with rage. But Mom had somehow mastered herself, had stretched her fists into fingers again, and softly snarled, "You don't have to be afraid of Daddy. If he so much as touches you, I'll cut him into pieces and feed him to the seagulls."
    _____The girl had resolved to never again tell her mother about the way Dear Father sometimes looked at her. But Mom and Dad must have had a talk, or something. Things got better after that. Sure, she took hand spankings and belt thrashings on a regular basis, just like every other kid on the street, but she would enjoy a long reprieve from getting the strange feeling that her own father— or her probable father, at any rate— wanted to make babies with her.
    _____And now that Mom was actively interviewing, Tommy and Jessica were latchkey kids most days, and were left in the clutches of Dad on the rest, because Dad habitually spent too much money on beer, smokes and Keno down the street, and because Tommy and Jessica wouldn't stop growing and eating him out of house and home, and because Jessica had become too big for her britches yet couldn't seem to get herself whisked off by some smelly old sugardaddy to be bred on her back like a good whore. Dear Daddy's words, uttered with candid resentment. Even with Gramma Mary and Grampa Bill living upstairs and feeding not only Jessica and Tommy but also Colleen and her younger siblings every Friday and Saturday night, they still couldn't make ends meet. So Mom had ventured forth into the workforce. She had only been interviewing for a couple weeks, and it was already getting difficult. Daddy had reverted to ogling and drooling, as he used to do when he would hover at bath time. But Jessica had matured a bit in the past few years, and she knew what his apparently convivial affections meant now. She knew that her father took far too many liberties, the way he spied brazenly from around corners and no doubt masturbated, in the perennially musty bathroom, every time her back was turned, which was why Jessica so often found it necessary to hide either behind her barricaded bedroom door or in the patch of moss and clover between the fence and the rusty shed.
    _____Jessica didn't think anything more would come of it. Daddy might have possessed unwholesome and inappropriate hungers, but he was a coward through and through. She felt certain he would never get up the gumption to act on his proclivities. Besides, she had been working out for the past two years, and had transformed herself into eighty-or-so pounds of wiry sinew and muscle. Freaky stick, indeed. She could throw herself into a hundred-fifty pushups without a pause and could have high-jumped right over Daddy's head to escape his clutches, if necessary. Daddy, in contrast, smoked like a chimney, guzzled cheap beer morning noon and night, and had bones made of glass. She felt certain she could snap him in two with little effort, should it ever come to that, and she suspected he knew it, too, and what was more, the concept of patricide made her tummy not the least bit queasy. She did tolerate the occasional episodes of corporal punishment, in the interest of maintaining the harmony of their happy home, but the bi-weekly thrashings were becoming a bit pathetic. Daddy usually gave up, breathless and cradling a sore arm, long before he made an impression.
    _____"Shit," Jessica muttered.
    _____The wind had turned, her pristine powder-blue sky now torn in two by fresh airborne effluent from the stacks of the nearby power plant. She reverted to her times tables, and closed her eyes.
    _____She reached seventy-nine times eighty-two when she finally gave up. Neither sleep nor dreams would come. Her powder-blue sky, inerasably marred, portended another evening just like the last, yet another in a series, and her quick mind visualized her antipathy as the border of a fractal surface, infinite in extent on every point upon its serpentine length, a path of inescapable misery, and with a torpor that belied her tender years she sighed, stood up, and gazed at the sagging clothesline; the lopsided, ant-infested porch; the gray, rotted siding of their triple decker; the crumbling walls of the hovels adjacent; the muddy rubbish strewn yards to her left and right, visible through rusted chain link fences, and the maggoty stench of the tenements behind. Yes, she resolved, the Mandelbrot Set, a continuous domain of penury, desolation, and prurience at every point, hell indivisible, hell ad infinitum, hell here and beyond, every interminable moment an eternity of fire.

    More to come...

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  3. #3
    Precious princess
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    Default Chapter 1: Conception, Pt. b

    _____Jessica Elizabeth Turner had gotten her ultimate start, that is, had been conceived, by accident, the unwanted culmination of heavy petting on the night of her mother's Christmas Cotillion. Carol had come close to ditching the event, but that one fateful misjudgment had resulted in the immaculate conception of Jessica.
    _____A child of traditional Catholic parents, Carol had lacked the precocity to ask a boy, and no one had asked her. Besides, she had been a mere freshman at the time, and she would not have been able to attend the Cotillion unless an older boy took her. Yet all her other frosh girlfriends had already been invited. Girlfriends in drama club had been telling her, for months, that a certain surly, unintelligent boy, whom she had known only by way of his predilection for teasing her, had been working up the gumption to pop the question.
    _____Finally, just two weeks before the big night, the sophomoric lad did ask, and Carol, as yet dateless, replied with an ambivalent yet relieved 'yes.'
    _____During the two week run-up to the Cotillion, Carol found herself filled with fresh regrets. First, at fourteen years old she still possessed the stick figure, acne, and awkward angles of an early adolescent.
    _____Second, Billy Turner's incessant teasing had morphed into nearly constant clinging and possessive pawing. Billy met her outside each and every one of her classes, and molested her all the way to the next bell. This ritual humiliated her in the presence of her friends and damaged her already tenuous grip at self esteem.
    _____Third, she realized early on that she didn't really like him at all. He had no redeeming qualities. He was an inane, crass fool. She had met his parents, who were vulgar and abusive. Though Carol certainly did not have the benefit of a noble upbringing, it remained an undeniable fact that Billy heralded from the bottom wrung of the social ladder— even from Carol's admittedly modest perspective. His family had relocated to the Boston area from somewhere down south decades ago, yet somehow had never shed the deep south inflection. They drawled and slurred like sharecroppers, and cussed like deckhands. If anything, a couple generations of exposure to the Irish/Italian/African American mélange known as the 'Boston accent' had made their elocution even worse.
    _____Fourth, Carol's parents detested Billy. He never would have come to Carol's house to introduce himself to her father without being dragged by his fingernails, but her entire family did inadvertently meet him at the school one day, and Carol's parents had decided almost instantly that Billy was not good enough for their daughter. She could see why, and could not reproach them. Had she been a parent, she would have come to the same instantaneous conclusion. Billy came off as a smarmy, guttural boy with a shifty demeanor. He gave Carol's father a limp handshake and would not meet him in the eye. Carol's mother had introduced herself kindly enough, and Billy had replied, "Now I know where Carol gets her knockdead looks." Carol had wanted to crawl into a hole.
    _____Carol had apologized to her mother that same evening.
    _____Her mother had asked, "Are you absolutely sure about this? You can still say no. After all, that boy's Cotillion is coming up, not yours. It's not like you'll miss out on your own, in two years. By then we will have completed the move to Wenham. You will be in a new school. There will be new friends, other boys. Someone nice will ask you, when the time comes." But Carol had already bought a dress from her savings, and all her friends had dates, and she had really wanted to go.
    _____The big night came all too quickly. Billy Turner's mom wanted to see Carol in her dress and take some pictures, so Billy picked Carol up, crossed back into Everett, and drove her back to his house, where she would have to endure the attention of Billy's father.
    _____William Turner, Sr. stood just an inch taller than his son. His toneless arms dangled listlessly from cropped shirtsleeves. His holey, stained jeans had been shorn by coarse scissors somewhere below the knees. A beergut shunted his belt below his hips. Grayish underwear protruded and bulged around his spare tire. This epitome of the male form blocked the doorway and let his eyes linger on Carol's low-cut pink dress. She suspected, quite accurately in fact, that he had under-dressed especially for her, to show himself off.
    _____Without even trying to peel his eyes from Carol's chest, the detestable father said to Billy, "Well, m'boy, yeh sure picked a looker."
    _____Carol blushed to her roots. After all, Billy's Mom stood right there as well, wearing a velour miniskirt, stiletto shoes, fake nails, and a quarter inch of stage cake and mascara. A stuffed owl peered down from behind and above the woman's shoulder, and somehow managed to look both less unkempt and more animated. Carol realized, with dawning horror, that Mrs. Mary Turner had dressed up, too.
    _____William Sr. let out a guttural belch and said to Billy's mother, "Say, Mary, did our boy pick a winner or whut?"
    _____"Yessir," the mother cackled, "he shore did."
    _____The father went on with a string of inane observations punctuated by prurient questions. He abruptly demanded of Carol, "Yeh wearin' a brassiere unduh that prom dress, honey?"
    _____"Yes, sir," she stammered, mortified. She wished Billy would come to her rescue, and defend her honor, but he just stood there, beside his mother, and took mental notes, no doubt eager to learn all about how to treat a girl.
    _____Carol glanced nervously through a doorway, through which Billy's older brothers, both of whom were already fathers, spied and elbowed each other. Carol struggled to focus. Mrs. Mary Turner produced a cheap instant camera from a handbag.
    _____Billy tugged at Carol's shoulder, but the brothers continued to distract her with their ogling until Mrs. Turner threatened to beat their heads with a stick.
    _____Billy's father apparently lost patience with the distractions and demanded, "Look at me, missy."
    _____Carol's head snapped up. She forced herself to look into William Sr.'s eyes. She could see darkness there, and brooding lust, and Carol, for reasons she could barely have comprehended, felt scared and lusty, too.
    _____She blinked in response to a sudden and unprovoked camera flash, accompanied by the whine of a small motor that shunted an instant print out of an ejection slot at the front of the handheld contraption held by Billy's mother.
    _____Carol hunched her shoulders forward sheepishly. The flash assaulted the room again. Billy mugged, and gripped Carol in a partial headlock all the while. An owl collected dust behind them, frozen perpetually in mid-flight.
    _____Billy's father caught saliva with his tongue just before the mucilaginous teardrop broke free of his upper lip. Neither Billy nor his mother appeared to notice, but Carol certainly did. She had been self-conscious about her sticklike frame all year, and about how little she had up top. Now, under the lascivious inquisition of Billy's porcine father, what little she had somehow accentuated itself for all to see, and she wanted to hide under a rock.
    _____Mrs. Mary Turner had snapped perhaps five exposures when her old Polaroid instant camera ran out of film.
    _____Young Billy, to his credit, saw where this was headed, and realized— perhaps with the benefit of first-hand experience— that he had to move the party along, if he intended on preserving his date from his father's clutches.
    _____By the time Carol squeezed into the back of the Turner family's fifteen year old paneled station wagon with her date, her cheeks were stained by tears. Billy threw a hammy arm around her shoulder and groped for her chest, oblivious to her distress.
    _____William Sr. took the wheel and announced, "Next stop, Shangrila."
    _____Carol vociferously demanded, without much hope of success, that Billy's father take her straight home. He ignored her entreaties and chauffeured the couple across town to the Catholic school.
    _____Twenty minutes later, they pulled into the Catholic School parking lot, but the setting offered no respite. She escaped the prurient attention of the father, only to endure the requisite episode of pre-gala molestation behind the shrubs that overgrew the school's central facade. She tried to steer Billy toward the worn stairs, but he resisted her efforts and repeatedly muttered something to the effect that he'd be damned if he would spend all night at some boring party with blue balls. In the darkness Carol hadn't even known that Billy had pulled himself out from between his fly and the cummerbund of his rented tux.
    _____While prior to that night they had never taken off a stitch of fabric, Carol had wearily submitted to more than a bit of petting through their clothes, in their shameful encounters between classes. Carol already had advance warning that Billy was a hair-trigger kind of guy, because he had soiled his pants once just by clenching her breasts with his scrawny claws through four layers of clothing. So on the biggest night of her life thus far, and on the night that would turn out to be the most consequential of her entire existence, Carol adamantly refused to take anything off for Billy, and absolutely would not touch his dicky, even through his rented trousers. But she did allow him to kiss her, perhaps hoping that if he reached orgasm in his pants, he'd get around to escorting her into the party so they could get this disastrous evening over with. In the ensuing frenzy, Billy managed to get his hand up her gown while dry humping his erection against her exposed crotch. She groaned around his probing tongue and tried her best to persevere. She knew that if she let this go on, given the jerky agitation of his fingers, he might inadvertently tear her virginity with his nails, without even knowing it.
    _____"We should get going. The party began a half hour ago," she whispered, grabbing his wrist with an insistently tight grip.
    _____Billy panted, "Party's right here, girly. We ain't goin' nowhere.... Engghhh, ennghhh, let's kiss, uh, jist a little, uh, longer," and now his other hand clenched upon the swells of her bodice, and that was when the boy lost control, and groaned as though stricken by cramps. With a perfunctory absence of flourish, he shot off onto his cummerbund and soaked Carol's mons veneris in the process.
    _____"Oh God, oh God, uh, uh, shit, oh God!" the lad groaned, as though mighty Yahweh somehow shared culpability, and would deign to take a moment, out of His preoccupations with running the universe, to give a damn about the state of the no-account jerk's seminal vessicles.
    _____Not three seconds passed before Billy slumped over Carol's shoulder, panting like a hound dog in August, having made a mess of the two of them. Yet he had come nowhere near actual penetration, so Carol could perhaps have been forgiven for failing to appreciate her peril.
    _____Carol giggled nervously and said, "Y-you didn't, did you? You did?"
    _____He apologized sheepishly, to which the girl quietly said, "That's alright; umm, I guess it's a good thing you're wearing dark pants."
    _____Billy laughed nervously and said, "Shit, really, uh, sorry."
    _____"What for?" young Carol asked, honestly perplexed.
    _____"This is suppose'teh be a special occasion," he explained dismally. "Should've saved that fer yeh."
    _____Carol grew queasy with loathing. As though she ever would have allowed a single drop of his vile stuff up inside of her, she mused, even as the tell-tale wetness spread insidiously across her lower tummy. As far as she was concerned, she had solved their impasse with no damage done, and now they could get this nightmare of a date over with. "Oh, that's alright. Let's just go to the party, okay?"
    _____Billy picked himself up off Carol. They extricated themselves from the shrubbery, the requisite episode of frottage safely behind them (for all they knew), and proceeded inside.
    _____At the dance, not ten minutes went by before Carol began to attract funny looks from the execrable city boys with whom Billy typically consorted. Several buddies had seen the stain across the front of his rented tux, and his perspiration did not quite mask the stale sour-milk odor of his semen, so the gallant fellow explained it away by bragging that Carol had given him a handjob out in the car. She herself did not find out about this betrayal until an hour later, but when she did, she furiously insisted that Billy take her home. Billy, by that time, could no longer grasp that their date had ended, having rendered himself drunk on his buddies' smuggled hip flasks.
    _____Carol spent the remainder of the party in the company of her girlfriends, who provided refuge until Billy's father returned to take them home.
    _____When William Sr. pulled up, he found Carol waiting outside without Billy, worked himself into an apoplectic fit, and dragged his heavily inebriated son out by the ear. Mr. Turner tossed the boy into the back seat, where he promptly vomited. His father opened the back windows, and vowed to beat the boy to within an inch of his miserable life with a tire iron, should he ever recover to the point of being able to feel the blows. Carol took the front passenger seat, turned her knees toward the door, and leaned against the window, in an effort to make her disenchantment abundantly clear.
    _____Not that it helped.
    _____William Turner, Sr. gallantly drove the girl back to her neighborhood, but stopped at the far end of her street and parked at the curb.
    _____"Mr. Turner, this isn't my house."
    _____He winced at the darkness, irritated by the bright reflection of a streetlight off a placard in Carol's front yard.
    _____"I know, I know. That's yer house down there. The one fer sale."
    _____"Shall I walk the rest of the way?"
    _____For reply, he reached behind his seat, rummaged through a brown bag, and produced two cans of warm skunky beer, one of which he handed to Carol.
    _____"Naw. What's yer rush? Yer curfew ain't fer another half hour."
    _____The freshman's cheeks burned as she stared at the beer can that he had set in her lap. This date, for lack of a better term, had ended long ago. Her companion for the evening, Billy Jr., lay unconscious, in the back seat, in a puddle of caustic effluent. The open windows sufficed only to render the atmosphere both cold and foul.
    _____"Mr. Turner, I had better go home." She picked up the beer can with her thumb and index finger, and handed it to him.
    _____He did not take it. "Nice neighborhood."
    _____"Not for much longer."
    _____"Hah! I see that. Fer-sale sign on yer lawn, eh? Where you movin', anyways?"
    _____"North Shore. Wenham."
    _____"Never heard of it."
    _____Carol shrugged.
    _____"Yeh gonna skip town to another school, too? Leave my boy high an' dry?"
    _____Carol seethed through her teeth, and refused to dignify him with a response. She would leave that dissolute boy high and dry regardless. She reached for the car door, having consigned herself to walking the final one hundred yards.
    _____William Sr. reached right across her torso, pulled back on the door handle, and grabbed her beer can with his free hand.
    _____"Mr. Turner, I really have to go—"
    _____He popped the can with his teeth, handed it back to her with his one free hand, and retorted, "Take off yer coat an' stay awhile."
    _____Carol glowered at the lid of the open beer can. She had never tasted alcohol, and had no intention of starting now. Not only would her father, the city police chief, smell it on her from across the room, but she had been raised to abstain without effort.
    _____Billy's father tipped his own can of Bud, grunted, "Bottoms up," and chugged the entire twelve ounces in one breath. Then he came up for air and urged, "Yer turn."
    _____Carol demurred, and said, "Mr. Turner, I am far too young to drink. I've never tasted beer in my life."
    _____"Yeh," he concurred, "an' that makes you an easy drunk."
    _____She had to cringe all the way into the pliant vinyl seat. He still braced the door with one arm, and intentionally rubbed his elbow up against her torso.
    _____"Mr. Turner, this date is over, and I have to go. Please let go of the door."
    _____"Nah. Fuck that. First yeh gotta pay fer yer ride." He wrested her beer can away, and chugged that one, too.
    _____Carol, angry as she was, felt her knees go weak. God, he was such a pig! She couldn't even find the words.
    _____He dropped the second empty beer can onto the floor, and got down to business by pressing his palm to her thigh.
    _____At a complete loss as to how to react, Carol trembled and quietly said, "You can't do that."
    _____"Why not?" he demanded. "It's yer Christmas Cotillion, missy. Let yer goddamned hair down fer once, an' give Santa Claus a big wet kiss."
    _____She threw her weight into the door handle, but he grappled her by the waist and pulled her right back over the center console. His sour, skunky breath panted into her mouth. She pushed back at his chest, to no avail. He gripped her waist easily with one arm, and worked on his fly with the other.
    _____"What are you doing?" she cried into his fetid mouth.
    _____"Jist doin' the job m'boy can't, is all."
    _____Carol felt his bare erection against her thigh, its progress demarcated by a trail of cloying wetness.
    _____He panted, "Don't worry yer little head. Save yer cherry fer m'boy, yeh stuck-up wallflower. Just havin' a little fun, is all. Just foolin' around, so relax."
    _____"No. No, Mr. Turner. I could get pregnant." Even as she uttered the words, she did wonder about that, now it came to it, after what that dork Billy had done to her in the shrubs earlier that evening.
    _____He tutted, "Uh uh, won' knock y'up, only if yer lucky. Won't it be fun havin' t'wonder, as yeh come around t'yer monthlies?"
    _____"That doesn't sound like much fun at all."
    _____"I'll show yeh fun, missy. Get them panties off."
    _____"No! You can't do this, Mr. Turner, and I should go home!"
    _____He ignored her feeble denial, took her in both arms, and pushed her straight down over the console. The automatic shift dug into the small of her back. He misinterpreted her writhing and frenzied resistance for ardor. His tongue slavered her collarbones. She yelped with fright and tried to push his head away, but he just caught her tiny wrists and easily held her arms out to her sides, whilst forcing her thighs wide open with his legs. In the course of her struggles, and his insistence, the hem of her dress worked its way right up around her waist.
    _____He released her arms. Far too many tasks commanded his addled attention. She wordlessly pounded her fists upon his back, and saw nothing but the rhythmic humping of his flabby buttocks, up and down in the darkness, a sight reminiscent of over-exuberant dogs that she had seen, working on their favorite pillows. The rapidity of the attack paralyzed her only briefly, yet with a brevity that gave the detestable man ample time.
    _____She felt his tell-tale shaking above her, a re-enactment of the son's memorable performance earlier that evening, in the shrubbery. The first pulsing jet soaked the crotch panel of her panties, and then another, and she cried, "Mr. Turner, oh God, what are you—" and another warm pulse, and now, too late, she began to appreciate her peril.
    _____He witlessly muttered, interspersed with ragged groans, "Take it, take it missy, yeh little slut."
    _____"Mr. Turner, nooo, you're getting it in me, oh God, no!"
    _____Carol's predicament hardly resonated with the man. He hoisted himself up off the girl, and she scrambled backward, finally able to open the passenger door.
    _____"There," he magnanimously announced, "now yer night's complete."
    _____Carol fell backward, out of the car, and landed on her posterior, skinning her palms on the cold asphalt in the process. William Turner, Sr. started the old station wagon and threw it into a U-turn before she returned to her feet.
    _____A few weeks later, when school reconvened after Christmas break, a tearful Carol confronted Billy Jr. and told him that she had missed her period, as a result of their heavy petting in front of the school. She silently conceded, to herself alone, that both the son and father shared equal complicity, but either possibility amounted to the same thing.
    _____Billy, who could not have suspected that his father might have been responsible, reacted badly. "Don't fuckin' blame me, slut, I know yeh've been sleepin' aroun' with half a dozen guys behind meh back."
    _____"That's a lie!" she cried.
    _____Billy stalked away, with hunched shoulders, and left her sobbing in the center of the corridor.
    _____That night Carol's parents called Billy's parents. They met for the first and only time.
    _____William Turner, Sr. went berserk on his own son, while Carol's parents looked on, both revolted and appalled. "Goddamn it, boy, yeh done put this here nice girl in a family way, and now yer gonna face the goddamn music, shit-for-brains! Yer gonna grow up real fast, an' lie in that there bed yeh done made, and provide for missy here, or I swear teh the livin' Christ I'll drag yer sorry ass out back and shoot yeh myself! I brought yeh into this world, boy, an' I can sure as hell take yeh out of it!"
    _____Billy and Carol met for a shotgun wedding that winter, on the second floor of Everett City Hall, before her pregnancy started to show. Her father did not attend. Her mother stopped at the outer door of the clerk's office, and refused to enter.
    _____William Sr. evicted a second floor family that had been in arrears for ninety days, and put his son and new daughter-in-law in their stead. Billy Jr.'s payment record fared no better, but his father took his compensation, at least twice each month, from Billy's new wife. Carol cried and begged through every episode and accused him of raping her, but he obliviously retorted that he had to have her, and she owed him, and that was that.
    _____In hot, languid mid-August, just a couple weeks before Labor Day, Carol gave birth to baby Jessica on a kitchen table, attended only by a part-time midwife, with the entire Turner family in the room, including Mr. William Turner, Sr., most likely the real Daddy. Carol watched her mother-in-law hand the newborn off to a gaudily painted sister-in-law named Penny, who in turn posed the babe in the lap of a one year old cousin, a rosy cheeked redhead named Colleen. Carol begged to have the newborn infant returned to her, but the family ignored her. She had fulfilled her sole purpose, and the celebration proceeded in the next room, while she lay upon the table, spent and effectively marginalized.
    _____All too soon, the novelty of a newborn in the household wore off, and Carol all too gratefully took sole custody of her new chore.
    _____In the ensuing days and weeks, Mr. William Turner, Sr. took an increasingly avid interest in infant Jessica until one evening Carol caught him lowering his tongue toward the baby's crotch while holding a video camera over his own head.
    _____Carol snuck away and returned with a ten inch kitchen utility knife. She grabbed his scrotum from behind, held the knife to the top of his most cherished possession, and pulled hard enough to draw blood and induce him to swear on god, the devil, and all the saints, that he would not touch Jessica ever again.
    _____Later, possessed by a drunken, vindictive rage, he beat Carol bloody while her husband, Billy Jr., watched impotently, but her execrable father-in-law never again tried to harm baby Jessica.
    _____From that point on, Carol could remember nothing but living with pigs, and being a pig herself, and learned how to shut her mind down sufficiently to be able to subjugate herself as necessary to Mr. William Turner, Sr. and his friends without slitting her own wrists after the depraved episodes ended.


    _____Now, going on two decades later, Mrs. Carol Turner inhabited purgatory, the mother of both Jessica and six year old Tommy, consigned to the second floor of a vermiculated triple decker set amid crumbling weed-choked cement.
    _____While there could perhaps have been some uncertainty as to whether Billy or William Sr. had sired Jessica, Carol at least had the question narrowed down to one or the other. Not true of Tommy. She could have no certainty with respect to Tommy's paternity, except to know for sure that her own husband, Billy Jr., could not possibly have been the father.
    _____Billy had been too drunk, for the past nine years, to get it up more than once a month. Meanwhile, the good William Sr. had been using her off and on, right under Billy's nose, ever since she had joined the family. And on top of that, Mr. Turner had traded her off with other friends on a few poker nights, right around the time Tommy had been conceived. Tommy somewhat resembled Billy and his father— the same shifty eyes and misshapen nose— but the kid bore faint resemblances to some of William Sr.'s poker buddies as well. It was not as though anyone in the household would have sprung for a paternity test, and truth be told, Carol could not motivate herself to take interest in the question.
    _____Carol realized, with resignation, that her detestation for Tommy extended deeper than his paternal features, but nothing could remedy that. Tommy amounted to simply another feature in the landscape of her personal hell. Sure, she had never gone so far as to have abused or neglected him. She kept him clothed, fed, and watered, and she had never lifted an angry hand to him, which was more than could be said of just about every other mother in the neighborhood. In a way, after all, Tommy constituted a valuable asset, a form of insurance, as it were. Carol and her family had a roof over their heads, largely rent free, thanks to William Sr., who owned the triple decker in which they subsisted. Carol attributed this largesse to some deeply ingrained paternal instinct, a silent acknowledgment of his responsibilities to Carol's little bastard. But she still drew herself up far short of actually loving Tommy, and had long since confessed to herself that her inability to love him would never change. How could she be expected to perceive Tommy as more than a rape-child? She treated him kindly enough, somewhat better than she would treat someone else's pet dog; he was, after all, half hers. But she would never love him; of that she could be certain.
    _____Jessica she perceived altogether differently. Jessica was special, despite having origins that were most likely identical to Tommy's. The young mother could not have explained the difference, except that her own choices had been taken from her all too soon, and that she had forfeited those choices by having given up everything for Jessica. This was, in fact, literally true, since Carol's mother, shortly before disowning her, had waved a credit card in her face and begged her to use it to buy herself an abortion. Carol's fate, she had long ago decided, would not be passed on to her daughter. For Jessica it would be different. For reasons that Carol could not have adequately explained, she loved her daughter with an intensity that sometimes made her wonder, with a guilty pang, whether she endeavored to live Jessica's life vicariously.
    _____Come what may in Carol's personal hell, she had taken steps to ensure that Tommy would be the last bastard. On the morning after she had birthed him, she had tearfully and soulfully begged the attending physician for a hysterectomy. The physician, filled with pity, had reluctantly and secretively obliged.
    _____By now Carol could no longer remember her parents' faces, and had neither seen nor spoken to them since a family wedding, which had taken place back before Tommy had been born. Although Carol could not clearly recall that time, having repressed it, she believed that Jessica could not have been older than four. They had not even exchanged Christmas cards since the falling-out, and Carol's parents did not know that Jessica had a little brother.
    More to come....

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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    Default Chapter 2: Furniture, Pt. a

    Chapter 2: Furniture
    _____Now, in the persistently bad economy, Carol had to get a job. Billy had never been able to provide them a decent living, but William Sr. had been subsidizing their income, first by putting them up in an in-law apartment, and then by granting them zero-interest family loans. This largesse did not come without a price. It was due to this cynical charity that Carol found herself obligated to put up with William Sr.'s constant pawing at her breasts and bottom in view of the family, and with his occasional insistence on putting her to more carnal use as the need arose. She had long since reconciled herself to this fate, and viewed her predicament as just another dimension of her purgatory.
    _____Lately, Billy Jr. had taken their dependence on his Dad's charity too far. Billy Jr. had been gambling on the side, with money that his Dad had loaned them to fix the car, and now they were broke. Penny-ante loan sharks were starting to hang around, though nothing Carol couldn't handle. She had threatened one such thug, a pimpled muscle-bound high school dropout, with a kitchen knife one morning. But she had a daughter to protect, and she could not have Jessica exposed to drug-addled bullshit artists coming around to shake the house down for a weekly vig. With the recession piled on top of Billy's gambling habit, William Sr. just couldn't afford to support them anymore, so now Carol found herself out looking for a job for the first time in her life.
    _____Carol had made only one stipulation on the night before she had first hit the pavement with her dismally thin resumé: if she, Carol, was going to start bringing home the rent, the purgatory would have to end. No more favors to William Sr.; no more favors to her brothers-in-law; no more favors to their poker buddies; no more favors to anyone. William Sr. and the brothers-in-law knew better than to push it. They reluctantly agreed to ease off on Carol, and took their frustrations out on Billy Jr. instead.
    _____A poor typist, with no office administration skills whatsoever, Carol bombed more than a dozen interviews before she finally landed a clerical job for a family owned manufacturing company that had headquarters in town.
    _____On the day of Carol's interview and subsequent hire, Dr. Spencer, for that was the name of her interviewer, scowled silently at Carol's application for awhile, took a call, and made Carol wait for nearly twenty minutes while he prattled on, for some inscrutable reason, given the unseasonably warm fall weather, about snow and ice. The whole time, she sat in the chair opposite, and tried to ignore the discourtesy implicit in his presumption that he should feel entitled to make her wait. Internally she seethed. But she had bombed so many interviews....
    _____She assessed him, from behind her downcast eyelashes, while he indulgently gabbed. He sat straight and erect, shoulders back, upon a Spartan oak chair. Striated musculature vied in amiable contention upon his neck and cheeks. He could not have been thirty, yet he comported himself with so self-assured and superior a mien that her self-perception of comparative insignificance exacerbated her growing resentment.
    _____He hung up, glanced down at the application, looked up at Carol, and brooded for a long moment with forest green eyes. Then he declared, "You have no applicable experience whatsoever, apart from a typing course in high school. What have you been doing for the past ten years?"
    _____So, he had made her wait twenty minutes just to tell her that she didn't have a chance in hell. The man infuriated her, but she fought to rein it in. 'Speak calmly, clearly, in complete sentences,' she told herself. 'No contractions. Pronounce your r's and g's.'
    _____"I have been raising two children since high school." Despite the internal coaching, she had murmured this admission like a confession to murder. Little could she have suspected that her answer would have raised his estimation of her abilities considerably.
    _____A stay-at-home Mom.
    _____"I do not see that information on your resumé."
    _____"Sir, I am applying for an entry level clerical position. I did not think that my, uhh, experience would matter."
    _____"Why the change in lifestyle?"
    _____"Financial difficulties. The recession. I need a job, and the children are both in school full time this year, which frees up my day."
    _____"Can you read?"
    _____She blinked and gulped. Could that have been a serious question? But how could she possibly have known, having never entered the workforce, that Dr. Nelson Spencer interviewed functional illiterates three times out of ten?
    _____"Of course I can read," she replied haughtily.
    _____He either ignored her barely concealed umbrage or completely failed to register it. Since he had already put Carol on a short fuse, his next words really put her back up.
    _____What he said was this: "If I am to hire you, I will expect you to dress and comport yourself professionally, and to actively assist me in the cultivation of our business partners."
    _____What she heard, fairly or not, was something quite different. In her mind, he had told her, in so many words, that her physical appearance was the sole reason he could possibly have had for hiring her, since she had come begging for employment devoid of any concrete business skills, and so he expected her to look and act attractive, and to visually complement the office, in order to improve the atmosphere, for the amusement, entertainment, and titillation of business guests.
    _____Carol Turner scowled, half-stood, and nearly stalked out the door, but at the penultimate moment she sighed with the realization that, given her lack of experience, merely having to look attractive was probably the best and least humiliating deal she would likely find, so she stayed put on the hard chair.
    _____He tilted his head contemplatively, with a corner of his mouth curled into a smirk. He challenged, "Mrs. Turner, you look as though you are not convinced this would be a fit for you."
    _____Carol detested the man for his arrogance. He had nailed her sentiments, another fact that she had difficulty conceding. His smirk irritated her. Perhaps it was another power trip, like making her sit and wait for twenty minutes while he gabbed on the phone about snow and ice. Carol needed the job desperately, and she surmised, with yet another twinge of resentment, that he alone had the sole power to grant or deny the positive outcome that she wanted and needed. Yet his question had implied that she had a choice in the matter. So, with a timid voice, staring at her shoes, she said, "Sir, whether the position is a fit is of no relevance to me. I need the job, and I can be flexible."
    _____With a cold, toneless voice, he commanded, "Look at me, Mrs. Turner."
    _____Carol forced herself to look up, afraid, now.
    _____He looked, long and hard, into her wary hazel eyes, and finally said, "You desperately need this job, don't you, Mrs. Turner?"
    _____She nodded sullenly.
    _____"I could take advantage of that," he advised her.
    _____She nodded again, without looking at him. Of course he could. Power advantage. Sexual advantage. She had heard of such things, and did not for a single moment imagine herself to be immune, given her intrinsic vulnerabilities. But then he surprised her.
    _____"But I am not the type to exploit those who have no choices. I believe in picking on people my own size. So, what I need from you, Mrs. Turner, most of all, is discretion. Do you understand?"
    _____She looked up at him now. He looked down upon her as though she were a child called to the principal. His green eyes brooded beneath dark eyebrows, and his shoulders appeared to span the width of his desk. Carol blinked and tried to clear her head. He had asked her a question. Whether she had understood. "No, sir," she replied.
    _____"What I mean is that I have, shall we say, eclectic proclivities." Dr. Spencer perceived her nonplussed expression and amended, "Strange tastes. Mrs. Turner, I need an assistant whom I can trust. One who knows, without being told, that what transpires in this room, stays in this room. Is that more clear?"
    _____Her mind churned in a frenzy. She wondered what he meant by 'strange tastes.' That sounded bad, or at least weird. Surely this towering man, who looked more like a movie star than a business manager, could not be gay? Then she castigated herself for her narrow-mindedness. She rushed to tell herself that she would have to adopt a more tolerant point of view if she expected to get along out here, in the world. These days, weirdness and strange tastes were not only tolerated, but celebrated, were they not? Whatever his tastes might have been, surely that was his business, and not hers. And she needed a job, and had told herself, after the tenth interview had bombed, that she would put up with absolutely anything for a somewhat respectable paycheck.
    _____But she did know one thing with certainty. "Sir, you are saying that I must keep my mouth shut."
    _____"Precisely, Mrs. Turner."
    _____"I will not have difficulty with that, sir."
    _____"Very well, Mrs. Turner," he said, "then in that case, I am prepared to offer you an entry level position. The pay is modest, but you would have the flexibility to meet your obligations and responsibilities at home. Opportunities for advancement at this company are few, but you would be afforded a professional, respectful environment with which to put solid office administration experience on your resumé. Is this offer acceptable to you?"
    _____Carol almost succumbed to her instinct and declined, but she heard herself say, "Yes, sir, it is."
    _____"Good. Welcome aboard, Mrs. Turner. Now you may return to Human Resources. They will have some forms for you to sign."
    _____"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," she faintly said to her shoes.


    _____Perhaps Carol should have fled at that point, but her desperate need for the paycheck prevented her. He had as much as assured her that he would not take advantage of her predicament. And she really did feel, given her wealth of practical experience as a homemaker, that she could put up with anything. In that sense she had to concede that he had been right about something else: that her life experience had applicability, after all. Over the years Carol had acquired a formidable tolerance for subjugation and debasement.
    _____Besides, she had been taken with Dr. Spencer at first sight. He was objectively gorgeous, intelligent, and some kind of doctor. Young, too. He couldn't possibly have been as old as thirty. Powerful musculature rippled beneath the seams of his impeccable business suit. The mere act of looking at him, at his smouldering rosemary green eyes, fired up all sorts of pent up wishes that her life could have turned out better if only she had not gotten herself mixed up with infantile Billy Turner and his scummy father.
    _____She spent an hour down in Human Resources, and returned to find Dr. Spencer hard at work. He did not acknowledge her return, except to gesticulate toward a far corner, where stood a broad, virtually bare oak table and backless hardwood stool that presumably constituted her work area. A computer and printer occupied the far edge, adjacent to a wall entirely obscured by book shelving that climbed to the ceiling.
    _____Carol might have felt, as she surveyed her work area and the hard, backless stool, that she had been transported into some Dickensonian novel populated by skeletal, impecunious scriveners chained to their chairs, were it not for her observation that Dr. Spencer's own desk and chair conformed to the exact same style. His oak desk had only one narrow row of drawers, and stood completely open, on four plain square legs, revealing his gleaming black shoes, his pressed trousers, and the wall behind. His work area had, for a backdrop, a floor to ceiling window that ran the length of the wall. The remaining three walls of the office were concealed either by filing cabinets or by bookshelves. Dr. Spencer kept the thermostat at sixty degrees fahrenheit, and Carol shivered in the brisk air.
    _____A half hour after Carol's return, he took a five minute break from his tasks to further explain the particulars of the job: filing, dictation, transcription, occasional errands, and above all, discretion. He did not hint at any specifics as to why discretion should be warranted. Upon her desk she found a small stack of materials, none of which provided further elaboration. She found a thick Employment Handbook, a corporate mission statement, an organization chart, and atop the stack of papers, a single sheet that listed her daily duties in writing. Paraphrased, the list of duties amounted to exactly the job that had been verbally conveyed: filing, dictation, transcription, occasional errands, and discretion.
    _____In fact, Carol would not even be required to answer the phone. He apparently preferred to take calls personally, on his direct line, to lend an impression of accessibility to the clientele. Carol didn't have a phone, but he assured her that this lack would be remedied within five business days.
    _____Not until around eleven-thirty did he finally reach a lull in a seemingly endless stream of phone calls. Carol watched him as he set the receiver off the hook and turned the volume down, apparently his only means of assuring that he would be able to give her five minutes of undivided attention.
    _____"Mrs. Turner, your duties for the remainder of today, which shall consist only of the next half hour, shall be to begin reading the Employment Handbook. Take lunch at or around twelve. You do not need my permission to come and go as you please. Take as much time for lunch as you need. Today will be a half day. I shall not expect to see you again until Monday morning, but I will of course mark you down for a full day's work today. Hopefully by Monday, when you return, I.T. will have provided you with a phone, but they are notoriously unreliable. I like to think that this is an easy job, as discretion is the single most challenging item on the list of responsibilities, yet neither I nor my predecessor have been able to keep the position filled for more than sixty days at a stretch in the past three years. I am hoping that you will break that trend, Mrs. Turner. Do you have any questions?"
    _____Carol knew that she would seem shallow and unprofessional if she could not think of at least one coherent question. She tried to meet his eyes, but could not do so without losing her train of thought, so her eyes fixated on his red silk tie, an object of focus that intimidated her to a slightly lesser degree. "Sir, according to the corporate organization chart, you are a middle sales manager, and not a vice president."
    _____"That is correct, Mrs. Turner. I report to the Senior Vice President of Sales, Andy Donner."
    _____She worked her jaw nervously and persisted, "You have the same last name as the president and founder."
    _____"Yes, Mrs. Turner. Your question?"
    _____"Umm, well, I am wondering whether that is just a coincidence."
    _____ "It is not. Mr. Vernon Spencer is my father. Like everyone else who works for this company, I am expected to advance by merit alone. Nevertheless, I do own one third of the company, as you will no doubt be apprised soon enough in the cafeteria by one of the many wagging tongues who try, with dubious efficacy, to convince themselves that nepotism is the only path to achievement in life. Do you have any further questions, Mrs. Turner?"
    _____Carol, trembling, had only understood half the words he had said, but she murmured, "No, sir."
    _____"Very well. Incidentally, this is an old fashioned organization. Though I do not consider myself stodgy, my sphere of influence over the culture, at least for the present, has limits. Therefore you will address my father as 'Mr. Spencer,' should the need ever arise. Enjoy the rest of your day."
    _____And with that, he turned the volume on his phone back up, took a call, and paid no further attention to her.
    _____Dr. Nelson Spencer was definitely a strange man, as advertised, and her instincts at several points that morning had goaded her to flee without looking back. The biggest warning sign had been his insistence, above all else, that she be able to keep her mouth shut. About what, he had never hinted. But apart from that minor mystery, he did seem harmless enough. And he was the owner's son. And she finally had a real job, out in the world.
    _____At lunchtime, she stepped out onto the sidewalk and realized, having spied a silhouette of herself in the revolving door's smoked glass, that she had worn the same outfit to all twelve job interviews. She ground her teeth together, walked six blocks to a discount retailer, and spent three hours spending the entirety of her first paycheck, which she would not receive for at least ten days. The exercise battered at her conscience, imposing a frustration that threatened to engulf her, right there in the store, between the crowded aisles. Nevertheless, for the first time since Jessica's birth she felt as though she had achieved a semblance of progress.
    _____Carol rode the transit bus home that afternoon with an attitude of relief and elation, a rare combination of emotions in her experience.


    _____Carol made it home in time to catch Tommy off the school bus. Characteristically oblivious to his mother's transformation, the first grader rushed past her, dropped his knapsack, made a pit stop, and proceeded straight to the Playstation.
    _____Billy sprawled across the couch, with his pot gut upended and exposed by his hiked up tee shirt. His rank perspiration evaporated into the room and exacerbated the humidity. The Playstation did not rouse him. Tommy ignored his snores.
    _____Carol sat at the narrow kitchen table, pressed her hands to her temples, and listened.
    _____At some point Jessica came in through the back porch door, trundling a book bag. Evidently she had been hiding behind the collapsed shed again. Carol pretended not to know.
    _____Jessica set her book bag on the kitchen table, pulled a chair up to her mother's, and took a seat. Carol glanced from the laden book bag to her wiry daughter and smiled, pleased to be sitting with someone more her size. Her neck still felt sore from the interview, from having had to look up at her towering supervisor for so long. Small-boned Carol stood just five-foot-three, and all too often felt as fragile as she looked. The sole compatibility that she shared with her despicable husband was his diminutive stature: Billy was skinny, pock-faced, and short. Poor Jessica, who so often dreamt of growing to be high-cheeked and statuesque, would likely not far exceed the height of her mother. Presently, Jessica stood not quite five feet tall in her shoes.
    _____"Another bad interview?" Jessica surmised.
    _____"Why do you say that, honey?"
    _____"You look pensive."
    _____Carol blushed. She had once known what the word meant, but the connotation escaped her. It pained and embarrassed Carol to realize that her school aged daughter possessed a superior vocabulary. But this fact should not have troubled Carol overmuch; if she had really been paying attention, she would have realized, long ago, that Jessica was far more advanced, intellectually, than anyone in their social circle, irrespective of age.
    _____Having no idea what her daughter had just said, Carol simply answered the original question. "The interview went well, I suppose, because I got the job."
    _____"Oh!" the daughter exclaimed. "That is, umm, great."
    _____"You don't sound convinced," Carol observed.
    _____Jessica shrugged and said, "That was fast, that's all."
    _____"Yes and no. I've lost count of the interviews that bombed. Uh, Jess, I know you don't like being left here alone all that much."
    _____"We need the money, Mom. I will manage."
    _____"Aunty Penny and Gramma will watch Tommy. My taking a job will not mean any extra work for you."
    _____Jessica wanted to say that she was less concerned about extra work looking after Tommy than with being left unsupervised in the house with Dear Father. But Jessica knew that Mom had enough to worry about, without Daddy's proclivities on top of it. She simply repeated, "I know we need the money, Mom."
    _____Carol smiled at Jessica's assertion and agreed, "We do. Or I would not even consider leaving you alone here with Tommy on the afternoons."
    _____"When do you start?"
    _____"Technically I already have. I've been paid for the full day today. But I officially start on Monday."
    _____"Mmm. Well, good luck."
    _____"I'll do all right. My boss is very stern and severe, but he seems nice enough, all the same. I think I will like working for him."
    _____"Oh? What is so nice about him?"
    _____Jessica's mother shrugged and said, "Easy going. Doesn't talk much, doesn't get too emotional. Keeps to himself. I think he'll leave me alone and let me do my work. Lots of bosses are so in-your-face."
    _____Jessica nodded sagely, but really had no idea what her mother was talking about. Her tattered dictionary really did not help much with real life. She had long since learned that the names for things were seldom enough. One had to touch, feel, smell, and taste them, too. Jessica wanted so much to start living. Yet the prospect scared her, too, since, in her experience, most of the people who had ever really lived had nothing to express but regret.
    _____That Jessica had not really understood Carol's assessment of her new boss was just as well, and would have come as no surprise to one familiar with the Turner family, because Carol really didn't have any idea what she had meant, either. She had never worked in an office, after all, and had merely been comparing her morning with Dr. Spencer against expectations she had gleaned from movies and television.
    More to come...

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  5. #5
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    Default Chapter 2: Furniture, Pt. b

    _____That afternoon, Jessica held off on her homework, being far ahead of the syllabus and having the entire weekend to extend her lead; instead, she practiced aerobics with her vivaciously fiery and freckled cousin, Colleen, who lived downstairs. The pair donned spandex leotards, locked themselves in Colleen's room, and started with stretching and calisthenics. Jessica did hundreds of sit-ups and pushups. Colleen gave up on the pushups after four sets of ten, but wiry little Jessica went on and on, up-down, up-down, like a machine. Then the girls danced along to the moves of a buff male instructor on DVD.
    _____Colleen, though she lagged behind Jessica in calisthenics and aerobics, could be forgiven her softness, since she had been coming to grips not only with her rapidly developing bodily proportions, but also with the fierce attention that said proportions inspired in just about every man who encountered her.
    _____The freckled redhead had recently split with Sammy, her summer fling, and now she had her eye on an older boy who lived down one of the side streets. Colleen and Jessica often passed Carl's house whilst jogging in the afternoons, and it could not have been coincidental that the youth had discovered an affectation for yard work at that time of day.
    _____After aerobics, Colleen and Jessica joined the entire extended family upstairs, at Gramma Mary and Grampa Bill's flat, for Friday pizza night, a time honored and rather tedious tradition. These nights were attended not only by Colleen, Jessica, and their families, but also by Uncle Phil, Aunty Claire, and their brood, who lived down the street. Jessica liked to think, charitably, that Grampa Bill's habitual largesse on Fridays and Saturdays might be motivated by a quest for redemption. Yet she had already acquired more than enough sagacity on this lovely earth to suspect, with her typical cynicism, that his true motivations had more to do with watching Colleen and herself grow up at his leisure. This cynicism would not have been mitigated in the least had she known that dear Grampa Bill might well have been her biological father.
    _____That evening, Jessica inhaled her pizza, said goodnight to Colleen, and retreated to her room and her books. Several hours later, Jessica took a break from her studies, put herself to sleep, and dreamt one of her favorite dreams. Although she could select her dreams and manipulate them as they occurred, she often found herself handicapped by not yet having lived all that much, a fact she acknowledged with a grudging mixture of impatience and resentment. She possessed only vague notions of what constituted the emotive forces behind romance, having never been so moved herself. All the same, this was a romantic dream, after a fashion, painted to the full extent of Jessica's present repertoire. Jimmy, her erstwhile summer boyfriend, had no part in it, but the dream did feature masculine protagonists and antagonists: older gentlemen who dwelt upon the borders of Jessica's limited experience, since the men with whom she enjoyed the most familiarity gave her too many reasons for detestation.
    _____She imagined herself imprisoned in a basement cell by Mr. Carter, her school vice principal, for instance. He would leave a plate of food every morning. There she would have to await him, bound to the wall by a short leash, to dread his return, all day long, until he came back to use her, to ravish her, as he did on most nights, after school. Both his presence and his absence would terrify her to equal degrees, because the only thing worse than being rudely debased against the cold masonry wall was having to spend the entire night alone in that horrible place when he neglected to show up. The particulars of the ravishment were necessarily vague, since Jessica had no personal experience in the sensations derived from being used by a man, but lately the details involved forced masturbation. The molestation would persist until Jessica grew bored with the dream and its annoying gaps, at which point she would either awaken or change the tableau by having herself rescued, usually by some stranger she had glimpsed on the street or the market and who had struck her as particularly handsome— or even sometimes by Sammy's nineteen year old brother, whom all the neighborhood girls found hawt, when he shaved, despite his being an irremediable heroin addict and part-time disc jockey at the seedy strip club on the next block over.
    _____While Jessica had always enjoyed the ability to manipulate her dreams, she deeply suspected that her nocturnal pastimes could be much improved, with a modicum of worthy inspiration.
    _____She desperately needed new raw material.
    _____Ultimately, she gave up on the dream, awoke just before midnight to the rumble of persistent activity by the adults upstairs, and tried unsuccessfully to lose herself in Anne of Green Gables. All too soon, the oddly vacuous intensity of L.M. Montgomery irritated her. She tossed Miss Anne Shirley, reached for yet another ongoing project, and successfully lost herself in Engines of Creation.
    _____Upstairs, the adults had been celebrating Mom's new job, hence the challenge imposed by Jessica's intense desire for distraction. Late night celebrations of any sort typically involved drinking themselves into heedless stupors whilst watching grainy porn flicks. Jessica could easily hear the cheap soundtracks and heavy moans and groans through the floorboards, and she had caught many protracted glimpses over the years. Colleen and Jessica had even succeeded in breaking into Grampa Bill's stash of VHS tapes one time, before Gramma Mary had learned that she had to hide them better. In addition to the porn cartridges, Colleen's dad kept an old second-hand computer downstairs. The machine had an undersized monitor, a tinny monaural speaker, barely enough power to run the operating system, and a dial-up connection to the Internet, nowhere near adequate for watching sleazy sex online, but certainly up to the task of pulling full color J-PEG stills of gaping vaginas and spurting penes off Google.
    _____For a brief period one summer, Colleen and Jessica had played a fun and vaguely disquieting game on the computer, on a few occasions when no one else had been around. They had called it the Picture Game. They had acquired the notion from having stumbled upon a folder full of illicit trash that Uncle Mikey, Colleen's father, had left on the hard drive. The girls, who had been preteens at the time, would compete to find the most reprehensible images. The Picture Game had few rules. Fake or staged images, of any kind, scored zero. Real images involving authentic, non-consensual torture or death scored high. Outright illegal images scored the most points. Candid sexual images with children and babies scored the most of all, as long as they were authentic, unstaged, and unfaked. The only remaining rule had been that all picture searches had to start from Google. Searches could lead anywhere, but Google was the requisite embarcation point.
    _____The cousins abandoned the Picture Game when the images that they were able to find, with just a few minutes' effort, both scared and disgusted them to equal degrees, but not before they learned the single most important thing about the Internet:

    _____that the much-vaunted World Wide
    _____Web neither promoted nor produced
    _____anything of value, or anything worthwhile,
    _____whatsoever, and never would.

    _____Neither the pornographic videos upstairs nor the Internet images that the girls had dredged up in the Picture Game constituted adequate raw material for Jessica's dreams. Those things had never happened to her, and consequently failed to invoke the necessary somatosensory immersion. Dreams worked best when they were based, even loosely, upon memories of authentic experience delivered to the cortex via the hippocampus. Screen captures of some filthy harlot getting screwed didn't cut it. One had to live it. One had to feel the sensation of ravishment in one's bones, the compression of subcutaneous flesh and muscle against cowering nerves, to make the dream worthwhile.
    _____Jessica had long since jettisoned the Picture Game and its passive-sensory ilk, because she found no pleasure whatsoever in dreaming of watching fuck films through a crack in Gramma Mary's parlor door. She could do that anytime, wide-awake, thank you very much.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  6. #6
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    Default Chapter 2: Furniture, Pt. c

    _____On Monday, Carol found out why the single most important aspect of her job description stipulated that she keep her mouth shut. This Monday, like all Mondays, was Correction Day.
    _____Carol arrived at the office an hour and a half early, carrying a small cardboard box laden with personal effects, with the intention of decorating her workspace on her own time, before Dr. Spencer's arrival.
    _____She found him already there, and he was not alone.
    _____"Ahh, Mrs. Turner," he acknowledged, without even looking at her, "I admire your initiative. Come on in. Pay no mind, and just go about your business."
    _____A peppered, paunched man of perhaps forty occupied the chair that Carol had taken on her interview. He barely glanced at Carol. She watched him mop sweat off his cheeks. In response to an unarticulated query, Dr. Spencer absently explained, "Mrs. Carol Turner. My new assistant. Now, back to our topic."
    _____"I'll call her in," the guest offered, "so you can sort this out with her personally."
    _____Dr. Spencer bellowed, "No, Donner! No!"
    _____"Then come down to my office."
    _____"To what end?"
    _____"Correction Day, obviously."
    _____"She is your furniture. You correct her. For old times' sake. Then show her the door."
    _____Carol spun on a heel, clutched the cardboard box to her chest, and stared unblinking at the overloaded bookshelves across from her bare worktable.
    _____"At least come talk to her."
    _____"I have nothing to say to her."
    _____"Now, hold on, Nelson. Try to meet me in the middle, here. We're talking about Sara Rice."
    _____"Meaning what?"
    _____"Come on, Nelson! Work with me. You have eyes, don't you?"
    _____"Dime a dozen."
    _____"Ahh, fuck—"
    _____"I want her gone, Donner. Gone!"
    _____The man named Donner whined, "Nelson, even if she weren't a ten; even she were totally forgettable—"
    _____"She is forgettable!"
    _____"Fine! Fine! Fuck! But she's still the niece of our fourth biggest customer."
    _____"Yes, Donner, exactly. And what did she do with our fourth biggest customer in Kyoto?"
    _____"If you're going to get stuck on that—"
    _____"She put eight of their procurement people in a hotel room with our biggest Asian competitor."
    _____"It was purely social—"
    _____"Donner, her role with our company is purely social! You are supposed to be our Senior Vice President of Sales! Why do I even have to explain this to you?"
    _____"Nelson, with all respect, you're not thinking big picture."
    _____"I am not thinking with my dick, either."
    _____"Now, hold on—"
    _____"Sara Rice breached her contract, and I want her gone!"
    _____"We need her, Nelson."
    _____"Who? Who needs her? I sure as hell don't need her."
    _____"Nelson, at least come down and talk to her. She's asking for you. We can still salvage this."
    _____"There is nothing to salvage."
    _____"Fine. Christ. I'll have your uncles drop by. The three little pigs will correct her."
    _____"Do or don't; it makes no difference to me. Either way, it won't save her job."
    _____Andy spluttered, "Maybe your uncles will have something to say about that."
    _____Nelson lunged for his phone and punched a speed dial number.
    _____"Max. Would you mind coming into town this morning? I'm calling Pop downstairs in the next hour."
    _____That was Andy Donner's cue to leave. He had no stomach for Maxwell Barsamian Westford, Esquire this morning, and the prospect of an encounter with Nelson's father repulsed him even more. He stopped at the door and turned to silently appraise Carol, who still clutched her box and had to tear her eyes off the stacked bookshelves in order to look at him. Sweat dripped down his puce neck. A nervous tic at the corner of his left eye echoed his runaway heart rate. His gaze roved from her neck all the way down to her toes and back. He ground his teeth, shook his head, and stalked out of Dr. Nelson Spencer's office.
    _____Carol's head snapped back to the far wall.
    _____Apparently the man named Max would not be coming into town that morning. Dr. Spencer convened a conference call with the lawyer instead, and brought someone named Pop— presumably his father, the company president— into the conversation.
    _____Things did not go Dr. Spencer's way. He became ever more strident, commensurate with the likelihood that the woman named Sara Rice would keep her job.
    _____"Yes, Max," Dr. Spencer harshly grumbled, "we still have the contract. But Donner came back without a renewal, and the renewal of that contract was the single biggest objective of the Kyoto show. I do not agree that this Miss Rice is the lynchpin on this deal. She could just as likely help lose it for us. Moreover, I think it is high time we thinned the herd. We have six other sales escorts on staff. How many do we need on the payroll?"
    _____Carol tried not to listen. She faced the far wall, stood at attention before her wooden table, and clutched her corrugated box with both hands. Heat poured off her face into the air. She tried to concentrate on the contents of her box; tried to imagine herself removing those contents, and setting them on the desk in an orderly, neat, and presentable fashion. She could not help but listen to one side of the debate that proceeded not ten feet behind her.
    _____Sara Rice was a new employee as well, having been with the company for little over a month. The woman had already staffed a trade show in Kyoto, Japan, which suggested to Carol that she had a very important role with the company. Perhaps Sara Rice was a sales executive. Yet Dr. Spencer had stated, during his altercation with the man named Andy Donner, that Sara Rice's role in the company was 'purely social.' He had also referred to her as an "escort," hardly a stellar attribution. Now the woman seemed to be in some kind of trouble. Dr. Spencer wanted her to be fired. Apparently the two men on the phone were overruling him. But Sara Rice would be "corrected." What did "correction" entail? What, exactly, happened on Correction Day?
    _____Carol still clung to her box, at a loss as to whether she should empty its contents or flee. Dr. Spencer ignored her. He comported himself, in the conference with his father and the man named Max, with a measured, strained civility. Carol could hear the tension in his inflection and knew that things were not going his way.
    _____He made another call to the Senior Vice President of Sales, Andy Donner. He took two more calls. Finally he set the phone in the cradle and approached her. She had never taken a seat, and still clutched her box.
    _____Dr. Spencer stood eighteen inches taller than Carol. He looked down upon her, and she felt an overwhelming compulsion to drop her eyes. Carol forced herself to look up, and blinked at him from behind her steel rimmed glasses. He looked right back at her hazel eyes, and she couldn't take the stress. Her eyes retreated again. She felt sweat beading on her head; could feel his eyes boring into her. Carol felt herself blushing. Again she looked up, and his eyes drilled into hers once again.
    _____"So, Mrs. Turner. I asked a question of you on Friday, on your interview, and your reply was satisfactory. I will ask it again, now, and this time your answer will be more meaningful to me. Can I count on your discretion? Can you keep your mouth shut?"
    _____Carol gulped, stared at him with wide eyes, and nodded.
    _____"Mrs. Turner, you must have questions."
    _____It took her a long time to respond. Her breathing was ragged. "Sir, that woman's, umm, terms of employment...."
    _____"Are not offered to everyone," he finished.
    _____"And this so-called 'Correction Day' means what, exactly? Sir?"
    _____"Nothing at all to you, Mrs. Turner. It does not apply to you at all."
    _____"But Sara Rice?"
    _____"To her it applies, and it is exactly what it sounds like."
    _____Carol nodded slowly and murmured, "And... will I ever be expected to...."
    _____"Absolutely not."
    _____"Never, no matter what?"
    _____"You heard me the first time, Mrs. Turner."
    _____She nodded again. Then, her words spilled out in a rush.
    _____"I didn't expect you to be here, sir; I came with my personal effects, to make an early start; if I had known, I would not have come. Sir, I will never intrude on Mondays again, I swear it!"
    _____He calmly and coldly said, "Relax, Mrs. Turner. This is your office as well as mine. And as I said, when you walked in the door, I appreciate your initiative. You should feel free to come and go at any time of day, in the fulfillment of your duties. After all, what you have seen this morning could as easily have occurred in the course of the normal business day. And since today is Monday, and since Monday is Correction Day, I regret to say there will be a distressing level of distraction today. The only thing I shall require is that what you see here, stays here. As I am sure you surmised whilst standing here and playing the proverbial fly on the wall, we have some in the employ of the Sales Department who fulfill purely social roles. They play hard, and receive commensurate discipline. If that sounds arcane, or even archaic, to you, know two things, Mrs. Turner. First, I couldn't agree more. Second, our methods of dealing with the likes of Miss Sara Rice shall never apply to you. I will, however, terminate you without warning, if you fail to exercise discretion."
    _____"Yes sir. I will not forget it, sir."
    _____"Very well."
    _____Carol timidly removed from the box a stack of three framed photographs, and she set them up on either side of her computer. The photographs of Billy and Tommy she set to the left of the computer. To the right, in view of Dr. Spencer's desk, she placed the four-by-six portrait of her daughter, Jessica Elizabeth.
    _____She heard, behind her, Dr. Spencer's phone receiver being set on its cradle. He had been in the process of making a call, and had changed his mind. She wondered if he could be looking across the room at Jessica's photograph that moment.
    _____Not much else remained in the box. Just odds and ends— a grammar rulebook, a dog-eared thesaurus, and a couple packs of chewing gum. She cradled the box in her arms, and turned to face Dr. Spencer, just in time to see him avert his eyes to a sheaf of papers on his desk.
    _____"Mrs. Turner?"
    _____"May I be excused for fifteen minutes?"
    _____Without inflection, he said, "I have told you that you have liberty to come and go as you please, Mrs. Turner."
    _____"Yes," she nervously mumbled, and walked slowly toward the door. He certainly had his idiosyncrasies. Nevertheless, Dr. Spencer seemed too good to be true. Not that she did not harbor anxieties. Yet she had leave to come and go as she pleased. For now. She stepped hastily out, before he could change his mind.


    _____In Carol's absence, Nelson Spencer sighed. Of all the luck. It had been his own damned fault. He should have advised Mrs. Turner, back on the previous Friday, to take her time coming in for her first official day. He had wanted to ease Mrs. Turner gradually into the whole Correction Day business. Before he could finish the thought, or give much contemplation to what, if anything, he could do about it at that point, he reluctantly took one call that he really would rather have done without. Jeff Anderson, one of the vice presidents of Sales. Second in command to the senior vice president, Andy Donner, whom Nelson had just spent the morning ripping up one side and down the other. Jeff Anderson never called without looking for a favor.
    _____"Jeff, what can I do for you?"
    _____"Nelson, you know I wouldn't ask if I had a choice."
    _____Dr. Spencer levelly said, "Not another Correction Day. Anderson, for some of us, Monday is a work day. Donner already corralled me in the parking garage, and I've just wasted two hours in spurious meetings over that new tart, Sara Rice."
    _____"Say, she's a looker."
    _____Dr. Spencer uttered a belabored sigh.
    _____"Come on, Nelson, be a sport; I'm in a real bind here. I've only just been called away. I have to go. I'll send her over around lunchtime. Please, Nelson. I've asked around, and no one else can do it."
    _____Dr. Spencer seethed. Anderson sounded like he was trying to pass off an unwanted pair of baseball tickets. "And you think I can? You think I have nothing better to do?"
    _____"Come on, I'd owe you, and I'm begging."
    _____He took a deep breath, gathered up a head of steam, and railed, "I told you guys last Friday, at the sales meeting, that I have a new admin. Mrs. Turner is actually literate, if you can grasp the concept, and I want her to work out. And she has already bagged me once this morning, duking it out with Donner over that trash, Sara Rice, at seven-thirty!"
    _____Jeff Anderson, with a tone of umbrage, protested, "Sara Rice is not trash."
    _____"Whatever. Now you are tossing another one at me? My new admin is not going to last through her first day."
    _____"Send her out on a long lunch."
    _____"I am tired of typing my own reports around here! Fuck, Jeff! I have already kicked Mrs. Turner out of the office once this morning."
    _____"Good, she'll think nothing of it. I know you'll be signing my checks someday, but I gotta say it Nelson, get the stick out of your ass."
    _____"Who," Dr. Spencer demanded.
    _____Jeff, with the tone of a gambler playing his ace, replied, "Vanessa Curtis."
    _____Dr. Spencer's loins gave a lurch in spite of himself. "Jesus Christ, Jeff, isn't she supposed to be in San Diego?"
    _____"Yeah, yeah, but she just popped back in. For recreation."
    _____"Nelson, you're making it sound like you're actually gonna suffer. I know for a fact you enjoy this shit, deep down, so with all due respect, get off your ivory tower."
    _____Dr. Spencer watched his pulse through the veins on his wrist, and said, "I am honored. Anderson, remind me again why I have to take time out of my day for this whore."
    _____"Vanessa Curtis is not a whore. Nelson. You know damned well she's the Princeton roommate of our third biggest client's daughter. Christ, talk to your Dad if you have a problem with this."
    _____He seethed, "My Dad doesn't appreciate you guys dragging me into this cesspool."
    _____"But you'll do it? Come on, say you'll do it."
    _____Dr. Spencer glared at the phone and didn't answer. Instead, he said, "You had better close the sale today, Anderson. Don't come back without the sale, got it? If you do, I will have Donner clean out your desk."
    _____"So you'll do it?"
    _____"I will pencil her in. No promises." He hung up before the sales manager could retort. Yeah, who was he kidding, to think he could spurn the friend of his third biggest client's daughter, taking time out from a trade show, here for recreation? Who was the whore in that scenario? Certainly not Vanessa Curtis. He had to follow his mother's advice and find a wholesome, respectable woman. And he had to find one fast.
    _____When Carol returned twenty minutes later, she found Dr. Spencer standing a few feet from her workstation, with a couple file drawers open, but for just a moment, she could have sworn he had been looking at Jessica's photograph. She could not have blamed him. The photo had been taken on the previous summer. Jessica posed upon the porch stoop wearing short shorts and a cotton shirt with spaghetti straps. She smiled saucily at the camera. She arched her back, draping her silky brunette tresses straight down across her perfect derriere.
    _____Carol nervously expressed the possibility that the photograph, perhaps, might have been too racy for Dr. Spencer's conservative office. "I could replace it with something less, uhh, suggestive."
    _____He shrugged, with his back to her, and indifferently said, "Do, or do not, as you wish. The photograph neither offends me nor suggests anything to me."
    _____Carol sighed and sat down on her wooden stool, thinking to herself that giving him offense had not been her primary concern. She strongly suspected that he did not mind the photograph in the slightest, and if anything, would have preferred that it be even more risqué. Then, some traitorous corner of her mind wondered what would have been wrong with that.
    _____"By the way," he said, "I may have been roped into another Correction Day appointment, sometime after lunch. I will be making a concerted effort to ditch it, but things have not been going my way lately. Miss Vanessa Curtis. The point being, that if you were to take a long lunch this afternoon, and make yourself scarce, well nothing would please me more... and, oh well...." and his voice drifted off, the thought unfinished, as he returned to his desk.
    _____Carol leafed through the stack of documents on her desk and found the Employment Handbook, a sixty page document, loose-leaf bound. She had barely made it through the table of contents on the previous Friday, and now set herself to the task of wading all the way through it by lunch. She had not made it past the cover page before realizing that something had changed. The handbook that she had begun to read on Friday had been switched for this one. Even the title itself had been intentionally personalized, Employment Handbook for Mrs. Carol Turner. She blinked, frowned, and flipped to the table of contents, which had changed as well. The chapter names now had nothing whatsoever to do with general employment policies. The first chapter in this version was entitled, "Dress Code and Posture." When her eye caught the fifth chapter, "Correction," she gasped and slammed the handbook shut. She stared forward at her desk and listened intently for any sign that Dr. Spencer might have observed her shock and consternation. But he industriously typed at his desk, apparently oblivious to her racing anxiety. Either he had set the handbook on the desk himself, or this was some kind of elaborate practical joke orchestrated by a coworker. He did not seem to be aware of her indignation. If he had set the book on her desk, he would have been watching now for her reaction, but he was not paying her the least bit of attention. She began to think that this must have been some sort of gag, perhaps perpetrated by the other administrative assistants, a crass initiation rite. But she couldn't be one hundred percent certain, and she needed this job so badly.
    _____Carol stared at the book, fraught with indecision, for several minutes, and finally gave in to her burning curiosity. She cracked the cover, as nonchalantly as she could. Again, Dr. Spencer appeared not to notice. She started on the first page, and had to fight to prevent her legs from trembling. She tried to read the handbook, or practical joke, or whatever it was. She could not properly concentrate, what with her turbid mind's many and diverse preoccupations. Nevertheless, the words assaulted her eyes, sentence by sentence.

    Mrs. Carol Turner shall assist Dr. Spencer in any manner he requires. Mrs. Turner shall work actively to reduce Dr. Spencer's stress, to make him comfortable, and she will endeavor to ensure the titillation and pleasure not only of Dr. Spencer, but also of his male and female guests. Mrs. Turner shall pose herself prettily and shall hold still, and submit to the lewd attentions of her admirers, in whatever form those attentions might take. Mrs. Turner must grow used to being handled by ladies and gentlemen, and must submit to such handling graciously and obediently.
    _____This had to have been the arrangement that governed the employ of Miss Sara Rice, Miss Vanessa Curtis, and an unspecified number of others. Had those women consented to these terms upon the commencement of their employ, or had the concession been wrested from them after the fact? Could Carol herself have been vulnerable to such coercion? Did some iniquitous play for her subjugation loom?
    _____The illicit manual had much to say with respect to the specifics of that subjugation.
    Mrs. Turner shall spend a good part of her day filing, and for this menial task she shall be required to keep her legs spread, and her back arched, when reaching up to the shelves, and shall be required to bend at the waist when reaching down, knees locked and feet at least a yard apart. At still other times Mrs. Turner will be neither working at her desk nor bending over at files, and might have no apparent use whatsoever, in which case she shall be required to pose for no other purpose than to improve the aesthetics of the room. She may pose on the credenza, on her knees and elbows, with her skirt draped down her spine to bare her naked posterior, or she may pose on her back, near the edge of the desk, with her spread knees up over her torso in the classic "birthing position," so as to advertise her suitability for breeding and to entice visiting gentlemen to put her to that servile use, should they so desire. Although Mrs. Turner is a married woman, she is to realize that neither such posing, nor any consequences that might accrue, shall be construed as statutory adultery, but are merely reflective of her duty as a furnishing in Dr. Spencer's office.
    _____Carol Turner tried to read, and given the distraction of Dr. Spencer's frenetic and apparently oblivious typing, she could barely attend to the printed words, yet it did not escape her attention that the handbook grew progressively more prurient and explicit with each sentence. Each paragraph demanded ever more radical forms of debasement. Part of Carol's mind told her that this had to be a practical joke. On the other hand, a sales intern named Sara Rice had endured some form of corporal punishment that morning. What if this was how it started, how the women here were ensnared?
    _____In the altercation between Dr. Spencer and the Senior Vice President of Sales, Andy Donner, Carol had gleaned intimations that so-called Correction Day might have imposed a physical dimension on the women in question. Andy Donner had offered to "bring in" Miss Sara Rice, presumably so as to afford Dr. Spencer the opportunity to observe her correction, or perhaps even to participate in it. What would Carol have witnessed, if Dr. Spencer had consented to Andy Donner's offer?
    _____In that regard, it turned out that this illicit Employment Handbook had quite a bit to impart, in its section on "Correction." The vile thing digressed for pages on instruments of punishment, and methods of restraint, and the submission of the so-called "furniture girl" to harsh chastisement. Carol repeatedly closed the book, yet inevitably felt herself drawn to its lewd discourse, and would open the book, and attempt to read, over and over again.
    _____The seemingly accidental insertion of the forbidden handbook into Carol's sheaf of orientation material, followed by a gradual ratcheting up of the pressure, the coercion, and then the inevitable culmination, the first Monday chastisement: that is how she imagined the sick affair might proceed. She had started by flipping through the handbook, perusing the chapters, and contemplating the puzzle, but then, as she had gradually acclimated herself to the debauchery of the text, she had delved ever deeper, and had begun to read in earnest. Nearly two hours had transpired in that fashion when she straightened with a guilty start and realized that morning had ceded to afternoon.
    _____Dr. Spencer's fingers never slowed on his keyboard. If he had any awareness of her tribulations, he betrayed no sign.
    _____Carol shut the handbook again, snatched up her bag, and fled the building without a word.
    _____On her way down to the street, her preoccupations returned constantly to the illicit Handbook. Her turbid imagination interwove thoughts of her new supervisor. He had an odd, out-dated, almost archaic name. He must have come from old money. She tried to tell herself that the handbook had to have been some kind of practical joke, but the more she thought about it, the more she convinced herself of the equal likelihood that Dr. Spencer might have set it upon her desk purposefully. And if that were the case, to what end had he done it?
    _____What had happened to the woman named Sara Rice that morning? If she had been "corrected," in a manner commensurate with the implications of the handbook, could her "correction" possibly have been consensual? Carol had heard intimations on several occasions that morning that the women consented to the treatment that they received. Had they started out willing, or had they commenced down this road fraught with misgivings and dread reminiscent of her own?
    _____Carol wondered once again if the blackmail against herself had already commenced. Did she not already know too much? What if she were being recorded on videotape, right now? But it made no sense. How could Dr. Spencer blackmail or coerce her? Could she not photocopy the illicit handbook in his absence? No, she decided, if anything, she had Dr. Nelson Spencer right over a barrel. The so-called handbook had to be a practical joke. It could not have been placed on the desk by Dr. Spencer, intended for her. But she decided that she would find out once and for all, by the end of the day, even if she had to confront him directly.
    _____Her mind raced on, way ahead of her common sense, to some imagined resolution to the impasse, whereby Dr. Spencer somehow came out of it appearing noble. She had to labor to keep her heartbeat steady. She wondered what kind of doctor he was. Good god, she thought, what a catch this gentleman could be for her daughter, Jessica! Or might have been, if only Jessica had been a little bit older. A doctor! And such a dignified name, and so handsome! But she realized, on the next moment, that the mere notion had to be insanity. He was so much older. Jessica was certainly mature for her age, but so young. Why did the timing have to be so bad, so wrong?
    _____For all Carol knew, Dr. Spencer might not have been noble, at all. She knew nothing about him, and suspected quite a bit that any reasonable mother— any reasonable person— would have adjudged detestable. What was wrong with her, for thinking the monster could ever be right for Jessica? And yet, had she not caught him, that morning, checking out Jessica's photograph? Maybe he felt some genuine attraction. And if that were the case, what would have been so wrong with that? Carol cursed herself, cursed her guilt, cursed her compulsion to find Dr. Spencer rich and powerful, cursed the maternal betrayal inherent in the act of wishing a grown man and likely brute, such as Dr. Spencer, upon her own teenaged daughter. Carol agonized between the disgust she had for herself and the vicarious sense of fulfillment she derived from the notion of matching Dr. Spencer with Jessica.


    _____Upon returning to the office, Carol learned that Dr. Spencer had gone out himself. She took the opportunity to conduct an impromptu exploration. She located the three nearest photocopiers, the supply closet, and the cafeteria. On the way back through the hallway that led to the bank of elevators, she turned into the restroom and stared at herself in the mirror. Not for the first time since her hire, she considered just fleeing right down the elevator and never coming back. But she needed the money, and Dr. Spencer had inexplicably taken pains to assure her that her terms of employment were somehow different than the terms agreed upon by Miss Sara Rice and the "Correction Day" appointee penciled in for that afternoon, one Miss Vanessa Curtis. Carol had been assured that she would not be put to the same loathsome uses, and that all she had to do was keep her mouth shut. So she stayed, minute by minute, and equivocated on alternating moments. She hid in the bathroom, before one of the vanity mirrors, and splashed her face with cold water while struggling to calm her pulse.
    _____She had been there for twenty minutes when an older woman came in, walking smartly on sharp heels, well dressed and accoutered, with a hairstyle that probably exceeded Carol's monthly salary. The woman turned straight into a stall without a glance. Carol thought to hurry out, but who was she fleeing from, and where could she go? Back to the office? To witness the chastisement of Vanessa Curtis, should the woman have the temerity to show? What if the illicit handbook had a basis in truth? What if Carol would be forced to witness horrors such as had been described in those pages, and what if, in her estimation, she were to adjudge those events to have been coerced, and therefore non-consensual? Would she not have a responsibility to report them? Yet a voice warned in her head with the severity of a klaxon alarm: she now occupied a position that the company had been unable to fill for more than sixty straight days at any time in the past three years. And she had been charged, upon her hire, with just one indelible standing order: to keep her mouth shut. Behind her, a toilet flushed. The older woman strode out, stopped at an adjacent mirror, and rinsed her hands.
    _____Without so much as a glance at Carol, she remarked, "New girl?"
    _____"I'm Abby. Your name?"
    _____"Mmm. Producer, or furniture?"
    _____"Excuse me?" Carol gasped, affronted.
    _____"It's either one or the other around here. I'm sure you've noticed. The ones who don't pick up the difference by day one never last."
    _____This remark bemused and intrigued Carol, who inquired, "How long have you been here?"
    _____The old woman turned to Carol for the first time, gave her a level stare, and replied, "From the beginning. I catch on quick." She winked.
    _____Carol took a shocked step back, and Abby's pursed lips turned into a smirk.
    _____"Good luck, Carol," Abby said, and strode out without a backward glance.


    _____At that very moment, approximately five miles away, Miss Marshall called Jessica Elizabeth Turner to the front desk. The teacher handed her star pupil a thick manila folder, bound tightly by a stout rubber band.
    _____"I've put this together over the weekend."
    _____"Miss Marshall, thank you. You shouldn't have."
    _____"Don't be silly, dear," the teacher replied kindly.
    _____Jessica clutched the extra homework to her breast.
    _____Miss Marshall's eyes darted up and down the girl's features, assessing several salient points in a split second: that Jessica had come to school that morning in her one good dress— not even a dress, really, but a rather crass outfit with polka dots and a bare midriff. Miss Marshall suspected this outfit might have been her top student's most prized possession. In that split second, she had also checked the girl's limbs and midriff for fresh bruises and had spotted nothing that absolutely necessitated sending her to the nurse.
    _____"Jessi, some of those exercises toward the bottom of the pile involve long division and square roots. The rest of the class will be using calculators when we get to those."
    _____"I will manage, Miss Marshall."
    _____"Jess, I have a calculator that you could borrow. When you get to those assignments."
    _____Jessica smiled and said, "Thank you, Miss Marshall, but I couldn't impose. You will need your calculator for demonstrations. Don't worry about me. I have talked to my Mom. A calculator is on my Christmas list for this year."
    _____Miss Marshall felt her pulse quicken in sympathy for the girl.
    _____"Honey, you're already way ahead of your entire class. Please take your time with this packet. Balance, honey, remember?"
    _____"Yes, Miss Marshall. Have fun. I will, I promise."
    _____"Good girl."
    _____Jessica Elizabeth Turner walked back to her table, clutching her homework like a life buoy. Her groupmates had been too busy fooling around to notice her absence. Miss Marshall bit her lip so hard that it almost bled.
    More to come....

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  7. #7
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    Default Chapter 2: Furniture, Pt. d

    _____Dr. Nelson Spencer returned from a meeting to find that his new personal assistant, Mrs. Carol Turner, had not yet come back from lunch. He shut his office door, retired to his private bath, rinsed his face, and stared at himself in the mirror. At the start of the day, he had penciled in an afternoon Correction Day appointment with Vanessa Curtis. Just moments ago, on his way out of an impromptu Sales meeting, he had pulled Andy Donner and Jeff Anderson aside to cancel the appointment. They had not been pleased. He shared their irritation, for his own reasons.
    _____Vanessa Curtis had her qualities. Even now, he kicked himself for having cancelled the appointment.
    _____He reminded himself of his loaded calendar. He had fifteen trade journals to read. A board meeting presentation to prepare. A Shanghai scouting mission to plan. Ten articles to read, on arcane subjects such as crystalline accretion, three dimensional molecular tiling, and programmable covalent bond breaking.
    _____Yet despite his overloaded schedule, still he harbored misgivings. Due to Vanessa's qualities. Vanessa could be fun. Vanessa had spirit. And imagination. And lean, muscular calves that she effortlessly wrapped around his neck.
    _____Vanessa would be returning to grad school, at Princeton, upon the termination of her sales internship. Vanessa Curtis would resume a semblance of a normal life. She would covet, and be coveted.
    _____Dr. Nelson Spencer stared at the mirror, superimposed Vanessa's silhouette over his own visage, and easily imagined himself with her, as a reciprocally balanced partner, afterward.
    _____He would owe Jeff Anderson big, for having cancelled the appointment. He had warned the guys in Sales that they had to tone down the whole Correction Day shtick for awhile, since he had a new assistant starting. Nevertheless, he would owe them. Vanessa had returned to town specifically to see him. She had requested him, in particular.
    _____Vanessa had come to play.
    _____Now, having been spurned, she would be incorrigible.
    _____At the upcoming Board meeting, Nelson would have to make his pitch, once again, to downsize the Tyngsboro foundry and brazing operation; to roll the divestment capital into nanoengineering research; to give a more serious effort to the notion of developing a viable method of replacing precision castings with macroscale tiling.
    _____Yet Vanessa Curtis incessantly impeded.
    _____He would not put her back on the schedule. He would not.
    _____Nelson Spencer's thoughts drifted to his new assistant, Mrs. Carol Turner, and how he had most likely botched their professional relationship, by having failed to consider the likelihood that she would have arrived at the office two hours early that morning. He had underestimated her gratitude for having landed the job, and her enthusiasm. Consequently, he had inadvertently exposed her to the sales internship system, the so-called Furniture Program, on her very first official day.
    _____He had to wonder whether Carol Turner had already fled. He felt fairly certain that she had not already bolted, because she had left the family photographs on her desk, but he could not be sure. How long would he manage to retain her? Would he somehow hold onto her for six months, or a year?
    _____He tucked in his shirt, fixed his trousers, sighed, and turned his back on the mirror.
    _____Upon returning to the office, the photograph caught his eye again. The picture to the right of Carol's computer, the daughter.
    _____He wondered, how old could the daughter be? Eighteen? No, not yet eighteen. Could she have been younger than seventeen? He wondered why the question mattered to him. He cursed himself for thinking of the photograph again, cursed himself for finding the young woman attractive. Had he been born perverse, with lascivious tendencies ever-present, yet latent, like a ticking time bomb, or had the Sales Department's incessant debauchery twisted him and made him this way in the two years since he had joined the company full time? Was he turning into an animal, a sadistic libertine? Did he have no hope of ever achieving the semblance of a normal relationship, after the liberties he had taken with the likes of Sara Rice and Vanessa Curtis, without consequences and with no reason whatsoever to exercise normal restraint? How would he ever hope to experience normal attraction to an ordinary woman, after so many liaisons with hired help, with women trained to respond to every proposition, no matter how debased and profligate, with the word, "Yes?" He forced himself to return to his desk. He riveted his eyes to the price listing of raw metal stock that scrolled down his monitor. He fought the compulsion to return his attention to Carol Turner's desk. A dozen pretexts for going to her desk cascaded through his head, and he struggled to repress them. He knew the real reason that he wanted to return there, the only reason, and it was the damned photograph of the woman's daughter. Carol Turner had already caught him glancing at her daughter's picture once that morning. Did she suspect the depth of his depravity? Maybe she had not been sure, at the time, whether or not it had been her daughter's photograph that had drawn his eye. The uncertainty, he supposed, had to be the only reason she had not yet fled. But if she were to walk into the office and catch him there yet again, there would be no room for doubt, and he would break his previous record by losing an administrative assistant in just one day.
    _____Presently Carol returned, shut the door, and sat at her desk without a word. He waited a few minutes, put in an order for five hundred kilograms of palladium, and then approached her work table, shuffling papers to advertise his approach. She looked up warily.
    _____He tentatively said, "I have cancelled the appointment with Vanessa Curtis."
    _____Carol Turner forced herself to look up at him.
    _____He continued, "You could not have known that I had done that, and yet you came back, regardless. You did not have to do that. And I have given you several not-so-subtle hints that you should feel free to take extra-long lunches, at your sole discretion."
    _____Carol sighed. She could not meet his eyes, so she focused on a nearby filing cabinet. "This is my first day. I am trying to make a good impression, sir. I need to do well here."
    _____He nodded. She had said it before, on more than one occasion, that she really needed the job. "It is just that, this being your first day, I suppose I am not making the best impression myself. I am sorry that you had to witness that encounter with Andy Donner this morning."
    _____Carol forced herself to look straight up into his eyes, and she asked, "What encounter?"
    _____His breath caught, as he considered her question. Of course. Keep your mouth shut. She was demonstrating that she could practice discretion. Even when they were alone behind a closed door. Carol Turner might work out after all.
    _____They stared at each other for a long minute.
    _____Finally she tentatively murmured, "You have told me, sir, that I absolutely will not take the place of these interns, or escorts, or whatever they are."
    _____"That is correct, Mrs. Turner."
    _____"My lips are sealed, sir. But, if you could just tell me, why not?"
    _____A smile teased the edges of his scowl, and he wryly asked, "Are you feeling left out, Mrs. Turner?"
    _____"Not at all," she snapped, suddenly irate. "But I would feel better if I could be certain that those other women have not been drawn in. By blackmail, or something else. Something that could ensnare me, too."
    _____"Hardly," he muttered. "You need have no worries there. Besides, this is your first day, and you already have enough on me to turn the tables, do you not?"
    _____She nodded slowly and said, "I had considered that, but I can't be sure. That you are not building a case against me."
    _____"What do you mean?"
    _____She glanced down significantly at the illicit bastardization of the Employment Handbook, and said, "I have nearly reached the fifth section."
    _____He blinked, and shook his head, as though distracted and unable to make the connection, and said, "It's been awhile since I've so much as glanced at the Handbook. Please refresh my memory."
    _____Still staring at him, she opened the booklet to her current spot and said, "Section Five is entitled, 'Correction.'"
    _____His reaction shocked her. He turned deathly pale and slowly put out his hand. She gave him the handbook, and he coiled it into a tight cylinder, saying, "I will remind you again, Mrs. Turner, that you should feel free to come and go as you please, and to take a very long break, if you so desire, umm, to enjoy the day. Please excuse me. I have to make a phone call." He turned his back on her, stalked to his desk, and punched an interoffice number.
    _____"Donner. Send in Vanessa."
    _____There was a brief pause.
    _____"I don't care how busy she is. Send her now. Tell her to swing by H.R. on the way, and to bring a fresh Employment Handbook for my administrative assistant."
    _____He hung up, turned on a heel, and said to Carol, who simply gaped at him, "One more not-so-subtle hint, Mrs. Turner. If you would like to get a bit of fresh air, and enjoy the unseasonably warm weather, now would be a very good time to make your exit."
    _____He had just advised Carol, emphatically, to retreat. She nearly took him up on his offer. But she had to see for herself what Correction Day really meant. She had to know.
    _____"I have quite a bit of work to do, sir."
    _____He sighed, "As you wish."


    _____Dr. Spencer waited at the door for Vanessa's arrival. Carol hid her face in her hair, but she glanced up out of the corner of her eye, without turning her head, to see him watching her fitfully, no doubt hoping she would change her mind and leave. He seemed... restless to her. Then he came around to her desk again, and pretended to be inspecting some paper on his clipboard. She did not look up, but she suspected, with female intuition amplified by conviction, that he must have been looking at her daughter's photograph again and trying to pretend otherwise.
    _____Carol took a chance. "Her name is Jessica."
    _____"Pardon me, Mrs. Turner?"
    _____"The photograph. My daughter."
    _____"She is a lovely young woman." Innocuous enough, as compliments went. What he had on his mind was nowhere near as innocuous. That Mrs. Turner's daughter had a beautiful ass. The kind of bottom that women in their thirties sweated and worked out for and starved themselves for, with utter futility, laboring for the unattainable, yearning for the figure they had possessed in their teens, before they could appreciate the power that their fleeting charms had over men. Could Jessica Turner really be as old as seventeen or eighteen? She looked even younger. Hopefully she was a high school senior, in which case the thoughts that dominated his prurient imagination would be less repugnant to him later on tonight, once he got away from this place and had a chance to clear his head and review his lascivious tendencies with more objectivity.
    _____"Jessi is growing up fast," Carol commented.
    _____He nodded in spite of himself, and with horror he realized that the mother had just summed up, with that terse statement, all the turbid thoughts that had just rushed through his mind. That is when he realized that his perverse, impossible desires were not for his new, attractive, twenty-eight year old administrative assistant. Somehow, in the course of the morning, with nothing more than a four-by-six photograph for inspiration, he had formed an attraction to the woman's teenaged daughter.
    _____He returned to the door, shuffled the papers on his clipboard, and quietly said, "I am sorry, Mrs. Turner. That is twice you have caught me looking."
    _____She glanced up at him and smiled thinly, saying, "That's what photographs are for."
    _____"She is just a girl. It is not right."
    _____"If your looking bothered me, sir, I would not have put the photograph there."
    _____On that enigmatic note, a tentative knock on the door diverted his attention. A slim, short brunette came in. She had a pixie face and bobbed hair. She wore a knee length jean skirt and a skin tight sweater without a bra. Vanessa Curtis looked up at him, glared resentfully, and held out a new handbook. He took it from her and tossed it upon Carol's clean work table, hard enough for it to slide the length of the oak surface and stop in Carol's hands.
    _____Vanessa stared at the coiled up handbook that he held in his fist, and asked, "How did you know it was me?"
    _____He grunted and said, "I didn't."
    _____She paled, took a few rapid breaths.
    _____He added, "But it was not hard to guess. You are, by far, the most... indiscreet... and devious... and impertinent... woman in our employ. You're lucky you work for Anderson and Donner. Only they could put up with you."
    _____"They receive adequate compensation," Vanessa retorted.
    _____"Still, I am half-inclined to call Donner and tell him the price is too high."
    _____Vanessa's eyes went wide, and with a voice thick with resentment she whined, "I've already been corrected this morning."
    _____"I'll bet you have."
    _____A small sob escaped her lips, and she pleaded, "I'm so sore already. Mr. Donner said I had to come, but he didn't tell me why. I didn't know I was coming for... this. Please."
    _____"Whatever your expectations were, you can forget them, Vanessa. I am going to beat you with this trash," he declared, holding up the coiled handbook, "until it falls apart in tatters. And then you are going to clean up the confetti with your mouth."
    _____"Oh god..."
    _____That was when Carol stood up, holding her new, authentic copy of the Employment Handbook, and muttered, "Umm, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go read this in the park."
    _____Without taking his eyes off Vanessa, Dr. Spencer absently said, "As you please, Mrs. Turner. I ought to formally introduce you, though. You will be seeing more of each other, no doubt. Vanessa, meet my new administrative assistant, Mrs. Carol Turner."
    _____"Charmed," the young woman mumbled.
    _____Carol made a closer inspection of Vanessa. She did not appear old enough to be a graduate student. She had to have been able to pass for eighteen, or even younger.
    _____Carol Turner nodded imperceptibly, and nervously stammered, "Okay... well, I'd better get going. I will be back, uhh, later."
    _____Dr. Spencer nodded curtly.
    _____Vanessa gulped, half-inclined to beg the strange woman to stay, but didn't dare open her mouth. Carol slipped out the door.
    _____When the door closed, Vanessa scowled at Dr. Spencer and snarled, "So. Is she next?"
    _____"Mrs. Turner is my administrative assistant and nothing more. A highly competent professional," he coldly replied.
    _____"Hmpf!" Vanessa grunted.
    _____He abruptly gripped her elbow and threw her face down over Carol's work table, just a foot or so from the workstation and photographs.
    _____"Nooo! No!" she cried sharply, "Noooo, don't! No, I'm still too sore!"
    _____"Save it. So, tell me. You hopped the red-eye from San Diego. Yet you still found time this morning, at the crack of dawn, to switch the handbooks."
    _____"Nelson, I didn't fly out here for the fucking handbook, and you know it. I didn't even know you'd hired someone, and the handbook wasn't my idea."
    _____He pulled the woman's jean skirt down her skinny hips, perused the fresh, crisscrossed welts across her bottom and the backs of her thighs, and said, "Hmm, Andy did a good job on you, didn't he?"
    _____"I haven't lied since I walked in the door. Please! Please, he made me do it!"
    _____"Who? Who told you to switch the handbooks?"
    _____Vanessa looked up at him desperately, biting her lip.
    _____He growled, "I am losing patience, Vanessa."
    _____And then she shrieked with indignation when she heard him pull down his fly. "Don't! Mr. Donner said you wouldn't want that. I'm still sore from San Diego, and besides, my boyfriend suspects I'm sleeping around."
    _____"You are sleeping around, you moron. You are right, though, that we should give this puss of yours a few more days of convalescence. Wouldn't want to disappoint poor Andy Donner."
    _____Vanessa contemptuously scoffed, "You know Andy Donner's nothing to me."
    _____"Oh, yeah? And what am I?"
    _____She bit her lip and murmured, "You're worth flying the red-eye for. But please, please go easy."
    _____Her resistance, her denunciations, her umbrage, her exhortations for mercy collectively amounted to nothing but empty histrionics. Vanessa Curtis had come here for this, had ditched the San Diego trade show for this, had boarded the red-eye for this, had requested him by name. For precisely this.
    _____That being said, the consummate professional's terpischorean stridency impressed.
    _____Nelson settled into his respective role. The pair had danced this waltz before.
    _____Then he forcibly pushed her down onto her stomach and wrenched her thighs right up over the edge of the table, into a straddle. With dawning comprehension, Vanessa realized what he intended to do.
    _____"Nooo! NO! I quit! I quit! No fucking way! I don't even let my boyfriend do that! I've never done that before! No!"
    _____"There's a first time for everything, Vanessa."
    _____"Fuck you, Nelson! Fuck you! Nooo!"
    _____He did take brief pity on the woman by producing a tube of lubricant from his breast pocket. He applied it to the imperiled terrain not so much for her benefit, as to prevent blood from spilling on his carpet. Thus prepared, he plunged into the debauched furniture girl all that much easier, to his full length. Vanessa, cut to the quick, passed out.
    _____Some time later, she had come around, and unconsciousness would not mercifully take her for a second time. Now, she had to endure it. Her tears pattered Carol Turner's work table.
    _____Nelson had successfully thwarted the Sales Department's efforts to couple him that morning with Miss Sara Rice, and the constrictive backside of Miss Vanessa Curtis presented a challenge to his endurance. He had to struggle to pace himself. Yet a half hour into her ordeal, he still rutted her with power, nowhere near his climax, and the woman had long since become inured to the pain. Now, Vanessa possessed enough presence of mind to glare up at him every once in a while, to silently communicate her affrontery. That was how she noticed that Dr. Spencer's mind, inexplicably and insultingly, had drifted elsewhere.
    _____Vanessa angrily snarled, "Who is that?"
    _____He absently said, "Who's who?"
    _____"That picture," she groaned. "You're bashing me to shit and dripping your sweat on me and you're not even looking at me; you're looking at that picture! Who is it?"
    _____With a guilty start, Nelson Spencer realized that he had been gaping at the photograph of Carol Turner's daughter all this time, as he had been sodomizing the twenty-two year old woman beneath him. He had been imagining the teenager, Jessica Turner, bent over the work table, in Vanessa's place. Jesus Christ, he had to be losing his mind. He quickly regrouped, and tried to play it cool. "She is no one, just my assistant's daughter."
    _____"She looks like a kid. How old is she?"
    _____"Who knows? Seventeen or eighteen, I would guess."
    _____Vanessa emitted a bitter laugh. "Hah. A lot you know. I'd bet she's not even twelve. You're a sicko. I've heard that about you, and here's the proof."
    _____"You're assuming too much. I wasn't even looking at the picture."
    _____"Believe whatever you want," he said, coolly, and rammed her with extra force.
    _____Vanessa cried out, got a lungful of air, and petulantly accused, "Flat as a board, but she does have a cute ass. We've established without question that you're an ass man, Spencer."
    _____"Watch yourself, Vanessa. I can still follow this up with my belt. You would certainly have it coming to you, and I don't care what condition your ass is in."
    _____Vanessa, throwing caution to the wind, persisted, "Your so-called admin-assistant must be a sicko, too, letting you wack off to that picture of her kid."
    _____Nelson Spencer did not lose his temper. He did not strike the woman. Instead, he abruptly ripped himself right out of her clutching rectum, aimed a couple inches lower, and slammed himself into her cervix.
    _____Vanessa let out a silent wail as he knocked the wind out of her. His contemplation of young Jessica Turner's incomparable bottom had brought him right to the brink, and now he pumped himself into Vanessa with deep, slow strokes, panting over her head.
    _____"Noooo! No, not that way," she wailed, once she got her breath back, "You're all dirty!"
    _____"Yeah, whore, and I'm cleaning myself off."
    _____"No, oh God, no, you fucking freak!"
    _____"Language, Vanessa, language." He drove himself right against her cervix, stretching her inside, punching the top of her uterus up into her lungs, striving to mesh his pubic hair with hers but coming nowhere close.
    _____Vanessa could feel him trembling and begged, "Please pull out."
    _____He gave her three more thrusts, pulled out, and groaned through a series of volleys that splashed upon her back, from the bottom crease of her thighs all the way up to her shoulders. The thick ribbons of semen soaked right through her tight cashmere sweater, but not before he thrust himself back into her belly.
    _____Vanessa had already started to mutter that he was ruining her favorite sweater, but now she shrieked with distress, "Nooo, you're still coming; not into me, Christ."
    _____He maliciously growled, "Shut up and take it."
    _____Dr. Spencer squeezed the last dregs out into Vanessa's birth canal without making a sound, an anticlimax, and already he had much on his mind. Vanessa sobbed beneath him. He pulled out of her and zipped himself up. She remained bent over Carol Turner's worktable, and softly cried.
    _____He coldly told her to shut up and settle down. "Grow up. You wanted to be fucked, and you were fucked. Now get dressed and move it along."
    _____"Let me use your bathroom. I need to rinse off my sweater."
    _____"Nelson, come on. Please? This is my best sweater."
    _____"I've just improved it. Get yourself together and get going; I have work to do. Besides, my assistant could return at any moment, and I don't want her walking in on this pathetic scene."
    _____Vanessa stood up and glared. She scathingly suggested, "Maybe I should hang out and tell Mrs. Turner what you think of her precious little daughter."
    _____But then Vanessa gurgled breathlessly, because a large calloused hand wrapped right around her thin neck. Her eyes bulged. He pulled her right up to his face, and whispered, "Don't forget your contract, Vanessa." Then he shoved her away with a mixture of disgust and regret, and she sprawled in a heap on the floor, sobbing and clutching her neck.
    _____He hastily scrawled a note, folded it, and handed it down to her. "That is for Donner. A request for further correction. I think you need to be reminded to practice discretion. Get yourself together, and get out."
    _____Vanessa wriggled into her skirt, groaning all the while. He stood over her with crossed arms until she opened the door and limped out. Her sweater clung to her back, affixed by thick ribbons of congealed unguent that had soaked through the cashmere. In the main office, Vanessa crossed paths with Carol Turner, who was just returning. Neither woman looked back at the other.
    _____Nelson held the door open for Carol, and closed it behind her as she returned to the desk. She set her new Employment Handbook, its spine obviously uncracked, upon the table in front of her keyboard.
    _____"I'm afraid you will have to start again on that, Mrs. Turner," he said, with just a hint of humor in his inflection. "Vanessa is a practical joker."
    _____Nelson perceived Mrs. Turner to be a decent person, a young mother returning to work to help put food on the table. He found himself moved also by the simplicity of her goals and motivations. Mrs. Turner was twenty-eight years old, roughly his own age. And quite attractive, with ample yet firm curves. Not a girlish pixie, like Vanessa, but motherly, maternal, wholesome. In stark contrast, the Vanessas and Saras of the company— the furniture— were morally void. Being a staunch atheist, he could not fathom why that mattered to him. Yet it did.
    _____The contrast between the Sales Department's furniture girls and his new assistant led his concentration down a different path, and he contemplated the shock of the unsought attraction, the way he had been drawn to the daughter's photograph as he had been relieving himself in Vanessa's insidiously tight posterior. Nelson Spencer had never been attracted to teenagers before— at least, not since he had been a teenager himself. So why the sudden compulsion to gape like an idiot at the lean backside of a willowy post-adolescent in a four-by-six photograph? It had to be the hedonism of the office, the constant libertine antics, the Monday Correction Days and the concomitant depravity. The Correction Days were turning his mind into filth, and he would be lucky to escape with his sanity.
    _____He had long known that, eventually, he would have to do something about the unspoken tradition that went on behind the scenes in the Sales Department. He understood its purpose, and grudgingly acknowledged its necessity. Every major manufacturing corporation utilized live entertainment in overseas sales and marketing operations. Virtually all of their competitors carried budget line items for escort services. Dymetrix had long ago taken its entertainment services in-house, for reasons of expedience. The furniture girls were comparatively expensive, but generally more discrete, more manageable, less dangerous, than using pimps or escort services. All the same, Nelson found the practice crass, antiquated, unprofessional. His Dad, Mr. Vernon Spencer, knew that the anachronistic process still went on, but he did not like to hear about it, did not like to be reminded of it. It had to end, somehow, if Dymetrix was to have a prayer of growing to the next stage. And if his father ever raised him to a position of real authority, he would bring an end to the anachronisms, even if it meant having to clean out Anderson, Donner, and all the rest, including some of his own uncles, the so-called "three little pigs" who had non-binding votes on the Board of Directors. Maybe, he considered on reflection, that was why he still had the role of a middle manager. Too idealistic. Too green, too naive. Dad might not condone the furniture girls, but he had to be the world's most staunch pragmatist.
    _____Through a significant portion of this reverie, he had been staring, once again, at the small photograph of Miss Jessica Turner. He suddenly jerked up with a start, glanced guiltily at Mrs. Turner, and realized that she had been watching him the whole time, assessing him. Judging him.
    _____"Uhh, sorry," he muttered, and straightened up.
    _____"That's the second time you've apologized for admiring my daughter, and the third time I've caught you looking. Sir, I really don't mind. I'm used to it. You should see men at malls. They've been known to trip on their feet and tumble down flights of stairs."
    _____He grimaced, with furrowed eyebrows, and demurred, "In this instance I was really, honestly, staring through her picture, at some point a hundred yards away. I have a lot on my mind. All the same, I know what it must have looked like to you. Your daughter is winsome, and she does draw the eye, as you say. But I can assure you I am not attracted to her in that way."
    _____"I can change the picture, or even simply take it home, if it makes you uncomfortable."
    _____"It doesn't. I will keep my eyes to myself."
    _____She smiled wryly, forced her lips into a thin line, and said, "As you please, sir. I've said I'm not offended. I would not even be offended if you were attracted to her, in that way, when it comes to it. She is, after all, developing a figure that any woman my age would envy, and men are beginning to notice. Something would be wrong with you if you didn't find her attractive on a purely physical level." Then she added, with a shrug, almost as an afterthought, "And when it comes right down to it, what really matters is whether Jessica would mind that you admire her picture. And taking one look at you, I can say I sincerely doubt she would mind."
    _____She refused to look at him, until the silence compelled her, and when she looked up, his expression of mock umbrage made her giggle. She stifled that impulse, bit her lip, and said, as lightly as she could, "All I am saying is that, well, I know my daughter pretty well. And I can tell you for certain that you would catch her eye, if you passed each other on the street. She does have a boyfriend, but not much of one. He's just a kid, with less than half her maturity, and she's looking to trade up. My husband grumbles that Jess gets more action than he does."
    _____He tried to keep it light, and mused, "Ahh, well, if only I were eight years younger, she could make an honest man of me."
    _____"I daresay she could," the young mother said, grinning, staring at her Handbook.
    _____Then she looked up at him, with a careful expression, and said, "Sir, you've been kicking me out of the office all morning and all afternoon, or at least attempting to. I get the feeling you have been expecting me to flee all day long."
    _____"You are very perceptive, Mrs. Turner."
    _____She pursed her lips, and her eyes narrowed. "A woman in the restroom, an older woman, introduced herself and asked me whether I am a producer or furniture." She realized that she had been flattered by the question from the older woman named Abby, not unlike the illicit thrill from being carded in a package store at her age.
    _____"What was her name?"
    _____Carol ignored his question, and focused on her own. "All day I've been wondering myself. Whether I am furniture-in-waiting, that is. And since I myself did not have an answer to that question, I've been thinking of fleeing, all day long, just as you've suspected."
    _____He just nodded, and waited for her to finish the thought.
    _____"Sir, I'm glad that we've had this conversation. I think I have the answer that I need, now. I believe we'll be able to get along. Do you mind if I ask one more question?"
    _____"Not at all. I have been urging you to ask questions, Mrs. Turner."
    _____She nodded curtly, took a deep breath, and inquired, "Are the distractions more or less limited to Correction Day? Will we be, ahh, producing for the rest of the week?"
    _____"We will. And, between us, Mrs. Turner, this whole Correction Day business has grown far too stale, for far too long. I would beg you to try to appreciate that, while I have essentially lived here since childhood, I am nevertheless a newcomer here, professionally, and nearly as green as yourself. And ever since I have come aboard full-time, I have been thinking that it might be time for a change of practice. But I also know I will have to take it slowly. Our customer base is, shall we say, old-school."
    _____She nodded and levelly observed, "That's your business, sir. I know you've said it ten times already, but do I have your assurance that my deal is not Vanessa's deal, or Sara's deal?"
    _____"You are absolutely not a furniture girl, nor will you ever be offered such an arrangement. As I have said."
    _____"Very well. I'll keep my mouth shut, and I'll attempt to stay. At least through the week. And then we'll see. Who knows. You may grow weary of my filing errors by then."
    _____He tersely said, "Do not count on it, Mrs. Turner," and returned to his desk.


    _____They did not speak again until the end of the day. At five o'clock. Carol was cleaning up and preparing to go, but he would be working into the evening.
    _____"Sir, I'll stay, if I can be of help."
    _____"No, that is quite alright. This has been your first official day. Go home to your family. But tell me, have you made it through the Handbook? I mean, the authorized one?" He said this with a hint of a grin on his lips.
    _____"Just about."
    _____"Do you have any questions?"
    _____Carol considered this, and wondered how much she was at liberty to say. "Sir, I do have questions. Quite a few. But my questions pertain, umm, to the other handbook."
    _____"Is it real?"
    _____"Real, as in authorized? Of course not," he replied.
    _____"Yes, I'd gathered that. I meant, real as far as the, uhh, 'furniture' are concerned. I mean to say, is it factually accurate? You don't have to answer, sir, but I thought we had established the beginnings of a level of trust. I had agreed to keep my mouth shut. In the presence of others."
    _____He thought about how to reply. "I can answer. Factually accurate. Well, there is embellishment, of course. As concerns the duties and responsibilities, and so forth. People who will go unnamed were having fun with you."
    _____"The 'furniture?'" she guessed.
    _____"If only it were the furniture. I don't think it stops there. The whole episode has made me cross, and I will be making inquiries in the Sales Department this evening. Are you concerned about any, uhh, embellishments, specifically?"
    _____She blushed, scrambled to summon the easiest of her hundred questions, and stammered, "Well, for instance: The, uhh, other handbook says, in no uncertain terms, that I am merely furniture—"
    _____"Again, solely in jest. The book does not apply to you. Your question?"
    _____Carol tentatively mused, "Okay... this furniture. Ahh, is it—ahh, clean?"
    _____"As in free of disease? Without a doubt. Bi-monthly physicals, all participants, males included. Immediate termination for anyone who tests positive for so much as warts. The furniture girls might act like whores, but act is the operative word, and nothing could be further from the truth. They are, for the most part, quite well to do, highly educated, spoiled, and pampered. Moreover, virtually all of them are somehow connected, either through client or vendor relationships. After all, their positions can hardly be posted publicly; we acquire them exclusively through referrals. In any event, they get the best medical care money can buy. Now, if there is nothing else...."
    _____But she did have questions. Hundreds. And one spilled out. "One more, sir, please."
    _____"As you wish."
    _____"I understand the handbook was embellished to shock me. But some of it seemed over the top. The sections about correction, and punishments. Do the, uhh, furniture girls really agree to be hurt just because the men want to hurt them?"
    _____"Because it pleases them to be hurt, if the men enjoy inflicting pain on them," he qualified. "Of course, that formula works both ways. The roles are often reversed, according to the pleasures of the participants."
    _____"So this whole corporal punishment business is not just empty embellishment?"
    _____"Mrs. Turner, you have to understand that the furniture girls do have productive roles to play, when they are not entertaining the Sales Department. They staff our booths at trade shows in far-flung locales. Industrial cities abroad, in Oceania and the Pacific Rim, where woman of—how should I say it— their sort are considered expendable. They often find themselves entertaining international strangers who are accustomed to fewer inhibitions than purported libertines here in the States. So, let's just say the so-called punishment clause keeps the furniture respectful. That is why it has been left in. You see, every one of those so-called 'rules' has some sort of history, and contains a grain of fact. Moreover, the handbook has also evolved to indulge the, ahh, peccadilloes— kinks— of the escorts themselves. The punishment clause has origins in serving that need as well. I imagine sometime in the past we have hosted participants who enjoyed the feeling of peril and subjugation. Some people— let me say I do not count myself among them— derive a perverse form of satisfaction from being compelled to receive pain. Although I don't pretend to understand them, I should also say I do not feel qualified to judge them."
    _____Carol considered this, and continued to nod. He waited. Finally she concluded, "I think I feel better about this, then. It sounds consensual, despite appearances. Meaning, you are evidently not quite the monster you appeared to be this morning and afternoon. No offense, sir."
    _____"None taken. So, does that mean you really don't mind my using Sara Rice, and Vanessa Curtis, et al?"
    _____"No, sir, I don't mind. Why would I? It has nothing to do with me; it's your business, not mine."
    _____He chuckled at this response, and urged, "True. But I was asking you what you think, personally. You don't have to answer. Your thoughts are, after all, your business."
    _____She smirked and suggested, "You, of all people, should not have to settle for fuckbuddies. I think you could do better," she concluded, and left it at that.
    _____Before he could end the conversation with finality, she rushed, "I have one more, sir, just one, and then I will never mention the other handbook again."
    _____"Very well. One more."
    _____She hesitated at first, as though afraid to speak, and blushed like a school girl.
    _____"Really, Mrs. Turner. We have just discussed the so-called punishment clause, as it is infamously referred to by those in the know. What could concern you even more?"
    _____She nodded, and conceded, "I'm being silly, I know. Umm, Vanessa Curtis. She did not seem too pleased with her experience, when I passed her on the way back into the office. Yet you insist she consented to whatever happened here."
    _____He replied, "I also insist that I do not pretend to understand her. She hopped on a plane from San Diego to be here this morning, surprised her managers by showing up, and harangued them until they agreed to ask me if I would... service her."
    _____"Well, I suppose I could understand her attraction to you."
    _____"It is more than mere physical attraction," he conceded.
    _____"I had gathered that much," said Carol, "because you tried to turn her down."
    _____He nodded and said, "This was not the first time for us. We have made a few attempts to— ahh— legitimize our association with each other. From my perspective the attempts have been futile. And she wants more from me than... this."
    _____Carol forced herself to admit, "She is certainly beautiful."
    _____He acidly said, "They are all beautiful. That is what they are for."
    _____"None of this is my business."
    _____"No, no. You are right to be puzzled, and I have invited you to ask. Who knows? If I had met such a one as Vanessa under different circumstances, perhaps at Princeton or MIT, at an intercollegiate event... but it is not to have been. I have pondered the notion of a relationship with Miss Curtis afterward. That is, after the termination of her contract. But I fail to see how it would be possible. The memories of this phase would always encroach. Our relationship, for lack of a better term, is defined by profligacy, and ever will be." Even as the words spilled from his lips, he comprehended that the terms of his relationship with Vanessa had never troubled him in the past— not prior to this day. What had changed? At what point had Vanessa's formidable charms become insufficient to assuage him?
    _____Carol watched him carefully. His eyes cast about the room, in search of an object to which they might anchor, and yet again she watched his focus settle on the photograph of Jessica.
    _____Nelson Spencer's eyes snapped back to the woman who shrewdly regarded him, and he seethed at himself, because she had caught him. Again.
    _____She blushed and hurriedly murmured, "I've told you I don't mind your looking, sir, but she is so young...."
    _____Once again, they had come around, like moths in a death spiral, toward the topic from which he had been trying to distract her. Well, he resolved with conviction, here stood another opportunity to get it over with, and drive the woman out before she could settle down into the job. Better to have it all out, and let there be no confusion on the matter. "Mrs. Turner, I have a confession. This afternoon, when I was, ahh, busy with Vanessa, I had been looking at your daughter's photograph the entire time. And I confess it because you keep telling me you don't mind, but perhaps you should."
    _____She slowly said, "You're right, sir, maybe I should. But it would depend."
    _____"On what?"
    _____"On why you were looking at Jessica's picture, while, uhh, servicing a mature woman."
    _____He sighed and said, "That is precisely the point. I am not sure, myself. I have been trying to convince myself, ever since the episode, that I had not been exchanging Vanessa for your daughter in my imagination."
    _____She stammered, "Imagination does no harm, as long as it stays there, but... but, well, sir, I realize you are a man, and my daughter is becoming attractive to men, but, well, you do know she is not yet of age—"
    _____"Of course, Mrs. Turner; what do you take me for?"
    _____Carol impulsively snatched the photograph up, clutching the image to her breast, and explained, "I'll say, one more time, that I don't mind your looking at Jessica's photograph. But it's obviously causing a problem for you, and maybe it is not appropriate for the office. I am thinking I'd better take it, sir. If you don't mind."
    _____He shrugged and said, with diffidence, "As you think best. She is your daughter."
    _____Carol nodded curtly, and still clutching the photograph tightly, wished him a good evening.
    _____He returned the sentiment, closed the door behind her, and watched her go. Then he sighed, and stared at the void left in the wake of the departed four-by-six photograph.
    More to come...

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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    Default I'm determined-

    I'm going to read it slowly and savor it this time. Thank you for reposting both books.
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    Default Chapter 2: Furniture, Pt. e

    _____That Monday evening the Turner household celebrated Carol's first official day on the job. They held the little party upstairs, since Carol's in-laws had the largest dining room in the triple decker. William Sr. and Carol's mother-in-law, Mary, took the heads of the table. Tommy and Jessica sat on one side, toward the windows, and Carol sat on the remaining side with Billy, who spent much of the time disgruntled.
    _____Shortly after dessert, Uncle Mikey and Aunty Penny came upstairs with their brood. All of the kids split up by age, escaping to the living room and the den, each of which had its own television and game system, while the adults remained around the table to talk about Carol's new position. She certainly had lots of misgivings about her job. Having finished the day a few hours ago and having had some time to reflect, she realized it would be irresponsible and dangerous to go back there tomorrow. Dr. Spencer had to be just about the most twisted man she had ever met, a volatile combination of sophistication, intellect, imagination, and perversity.
    _____But she had a paycheck now, and would not be able to forfeit that paycheck unilaterally. She would first need the support of the Turner clan.
    _____Carol attempted to garner a shred of sympathy from Billy and her repugnant in-laws by divulging some of the less consequential aspects of the job. "I work in the same room with him, all day long," she complained.
    _____Uncle Mikey scoffed, "Course yeh do, idiot, yeh work fer him, don't yeh?"
    _____She wrung her hands, saying, "I have to face the wall and sit on a stool."
    _____William Sr. snidely declared, "Good. No big puffy chair for the help, cold hard stool keeps you alert. No problem with that. Sounds like this feller knows his what-for."
    _____Billy Jr. grunted, "At the sheet metal plant, I don't even get a chair."
    _____William Sr. piped in, "And don't you get on yer lily-white high horse if he gives yer sweet butt a pinch, neither. Just thank him fer the compliment and go about yer business. Hell, I give my little worker bees in the office a swat on the butt whenever I'm pleased with 'em, and not a single one's ever complained."
    _____Gramma Mary shrewdly muttered, "Such the proud cock in the henhouse, Bill."
    _____Billy Jr. groused, "I don't want no white-shirt swattin' my woman on the butt or anywheres else."
    _____Uncle Mikey taunted, "Then get your ass to work and start makin' a real living so she don't have to, numbnuts."
    _____"Mikey's right, boy," William Sr. declared, "and that's fer shit-sure. If yeh could provide fer the little lady, she wouldn't have t'work. Yer mother here ain't worked a day in her life, 'cause I'm a real man."
    _____The insinuation that Billy was, ipso facto, not a real man, made him even more irritable. He did not need reminding, at home, of his inadequacies. He heard it often enough at work and in the bar.
    _____Now they were all yelling at each other, the women too, and Carol really didn't think this was going her way anymore, so she interjected, "It won't stop at pinching my butt, once it starts. I've seen and heard enough to know that Dr. Spencer believes firmly in corporal punishment."
    _____Gramma Mary sagely advised, "Face it, girl, a strong man's guiding hand will only improve you." Then, without missing a breath, she said, "You didn't say you're workin' in a doctor's office, honey." She sounded impressed.
    _____Carol said, "He's not that kind of doctor, Mary." She tried to stare at the ceiling, but could focus on nothing at all; it was hopeless.
    _____Her mother-in-law kindly said, "Yer just bein' a grump, that's whut. Can't be all bad. Can't yeh think of some nice things about yer new job, workin' in a doctor's office and all?"
    _____Carol closed her eyes, and decided that it would not aid her case to remind Mary, once again, that he was not that kind of doctor, but she said, "Well, he lets me take lunch as long as I want, up to two hours."
    _____There were gasps around the room.
    _____Uncle Mikey stormed, "I only get a half hour! We got a fuckin' young woman exec-a-tive here!"
    _____Carol smiled uncertainly, strangely flattered by their envy, and said, "And I can pretty much take breaks and step out whenever...."
    _____Aunty Penny looked jealous now, and said, "Well, that ain't so bad... what exactly is it you do, honey, asides sit there and look pretty?"
    _____Carol blinked and confessed, "Well, umm, not much, really. So far the job is mostly just reading. But there will be filing and stuff, too."
    _____Aunty Penny, her eyes like slits, hissed, "Yer' getting twenty bucks an hour with a two hour lunch and coffee breaks, just to primp on a chair and stuff papers in a drawer, and yer complainin'? Fuck, honey. Sounds like yer gonna shop more than yer gonna work."
    _____William Sr. snorted, "Well said, Penny. Billy, what d'yeh think o'that? Think yer little lady can put up with a little swat on the tush now an'then fer twenty bucks an hour into the fuckin' cookie jar?"
    _____Billy Jr. muttered, "Shit, I don't make twenty bucks an hour. An' I gotta punch out for breaks."
    _____Uncle Mikey said, as though stating the blatantly obvious to a child, "B'cause yer a fuckin' dipweed, like I've been tellin' y'all yer mis'rable life."
    _____Gramma Mary pried, "Sooo, this doctor o'yours, how old is he, anyway? Bet he's an old coot, all the doctors is old, that's whut."
    _____Carol stammered, "I dunno."
    _____Uncle Mikey suggested, "Well think, girl! You've seen his desk. What about the pictures of his kids? How old are they?"
    _____Aunty Penny glanced at her husband, apparently impressed.
    _____Carol murmured, "He doesn't have pictures of kids."
    _____Gramma Mary suggested, "Prob'ly all off to college then."
    _____Aunty Penny nodded.
    _____Carol thought this might have been the end of it, but Billy Jr., had become uncomfortably obsessed with the question and pressed, "Well, woman, how old do you think he is?"
    _____"Umm, not that old, really...." She knew for a fact he was twenty-six, roughly her own age, but she said, "Most likely in his twenties."
    _____Billy Jr. railed, "Well, fuck, that's your age! Does he wear a ring?"
    _____"Umm, no," she said, staring at her lap.
    _____Billy Jr. stood so abruptly that his chair and beer can went flying. "Yer quittin'! Yer quittin' tonight, bitch!"
    _____William Sr. dangerously hissed, "Sit down, Billy."
    _____Billy Jr. did not hear his father. He jabbed a finger at Carol's forehead and said, "I won't have my wife workin' an' lookin' sexy fer a man who might-a necked with'er in some car in high school!'
    _____William Sr. stood, hauled his arm back, and backhanded Billy Jr. across the face, knocking him back into the cupboard. Billy Jr. staggered back up with a bloody lip and clenched fists.
    _____"I said, sit the fuck down, Billy."
    _____Several kids peeked around the corner— the youngest of Uncle Mikey and Aunty Penny's brood, as well as Tommy.
    _____One of the cousins declared to Tommy, "Grampa Bill just kicked your Dad's ass."
    _____Tommy shrugged, "They fight all the time."
    _____Aunty Penny yelled, "Go play afore I tan yer hides."
    _____Carol cast her eyes about furtively for Jessica and Colleen, suddenly filled with anxiety that they might have been spying from around a corner, perhaps listening in on this trash from behind the parlor's entertainment center, all this time. Carol did not condone Jessica's exposure to swill of this kind, but in such a tiny house, with three families packed in on top of each other, the occasional broadening of Jessica's horizons could not be avoided.
    _____Gramma Mary stood up and brought back a few more beers, saying to Carol, "Well it sounds t'me like yeh picked yerself a nice young gentleman t'work fer. Doctor 'n all. An' Billy," she said to her son, "don't you worry none. Carol knows her place an' knows she's a happily married gal, an' this Dr. Spencer sounds like a real gentleman and a puhfessional, so you ain't got nothin' t'worry about."
    _____William Sr. added, "An' don't yeh go razzin' her about it son," with an effort to sound reasonable again, "that's what I'm tryin' to tell you, yeh dizzy little whizzbucket. Yeh go smackin' her around fer tryin' t'help put food on the table an' do your job for yeh, an' yer just gonna push her right on this doctor's fat dick. Ain't that right, Carol?"
    _____Jessica's mother looked up and said, "Maybe entering the workforce is a bad idea."
    _____William Sr. said, "No it ain't. Hell, someone downstairs gotta pay the rent. Don't you worry yer little head about it, an' if my boy gets all smarmy about it, you just come'n see me, and I'll take his scrawny ass out t'the woodshed straightaways. Asides, we've all been waitin' fifteen years fer you to get off yer ass and apply yerself."


    _____Colleen and Jessica had been hiding around the corner, behind the colossal entertainment center, just as Carol had suspected, and they had heard the whole exchange. Now the conversation between the adults had devolved, if such a thing were possible. They had popped another round of beer cans, and the cousins knew that all sense of coherency would soon be lost. They crept back to the stairs and retreated to Jessica's room. Colleen flopped onto Jessica's bed, knees up, and her firm little breasts panting upon her ribcage. Jessica sat cross-legged on the old chair at her small desk, and absently riffed the pages of a book that she wanted to return to before bedtime.
    _____Colleen gushed, "Your Mom's new boss sounds like a real catch."
    _____"Yes," Jessica agreed, "and Dear Daddy thought so, too."
    _____Colleen qualified, "But, like, it sounds like your mom might go over his knee now and then. You catch that bit about corporal punishment? Your Dad didn't like that part at all."
    _____Jessica shrugged and said, "I don't see why it troubled him. At least I won't be the only one around here hiding bruises."
    _____Colleen stared at the ceiling light, altogether oblivious of Jessica's mood, and said, "You're so lucky your Mom's going to work. I wish my Mom would get the fuck out of my hair."
    _____Jessica thought about Daddy, and how he hovered around the hallway whenever she finished a shower, hoping to catch a peek, and wondered whether the dresser would be enough to barricade herself in this bedroom. She just replied, "Umm."
    _____Colleen glanced over at Jessica, who wistfully thumbed through a text, and giggled, "You and your goddamned books. Don't tell me you're gonna do more homework tonight."
    _____Jessica defensively said, "I'm the youngest kid in my class. I have to work doubly hard to keep up."
    _____"Hah. I know some girls in your math class with Marshall. They say you always have the right answer, always."
    _____Jessica just shrugged.
    _____"They also say you could be friendlier."
    _____This accusation made Jessica wince. "I am friendly to you, Colleen."
    _____"Duh. We're cousins, and we live in the same house! And speaking of friends, you know, you could be a better friend to me."
    _____"How so?"
    _____"Why do you keep trying to break up with Jimmy?"
    _____Jessica sighed. "Because I don't like the way he touches me, and I have nothing in common with him. I can't even really talk to him about anything. He never wants to talk. He is so childish."
    _____Colleen scoffed, "Childish! He's a year older than you are, you nut! You should feel lucky to have an older boy. Especially being, well— oh, don't look at me that way, Jess—"
    _____"A freak."
    _____"Not even! Just, well— nerdy. In a cute way. Like a shiny bug."
    _____Jessica petulantly said, "Thanks. Thanks a lot. So I'm a bug. Whatever. Summer is over, Coll. I am extremely busy with school, and I don't see why I need a boyfriend."
    _____Colleen chittered, "You're such a little girl sometimes. Come on, Jessi, I'm trying to get together with Carl; you know that."
    _____"I don't see what that has to do with me."
    _____"Well how are we supposed to do stuff together and hang out if you don't have a boyfriend?"
    _____"Colleen, I do hang out with you. We do aerobics together, just about every afternoon."
    _____"Yeah, but I mean with boys. You gotta have Jimmy on your arm when we hang out, to put the idea in Carl's head that he should have a girlfriend, too."
    _____Jessica stared at Colleen and gritted her teeth. The freckled redhead had stunned the whole school on the day after Labor Day weekend by strutting off the bus with the bombshell figure she had grown over the summer, which she flaunted to devastating effect with low-cut tee shirts that exposed the edges of her push-up bras. The daily aerobics and calisthenics endowed Colleen with a tiny waist and firm little butt to match. Jessica had observed the way Colleen drew boys' eyes. Jessica didn't think that her vivacious and extroverted cousin needed help from anyone. But then again, she had the distinct impression that Colleen would not get the hell out of her room, and let her get back to her homework, without some kind of concession.
    _____"Okay. If Jimmy can act civilly on the school bus for three days in a row, I will think about hanging out with him again. But only as friends, and only for you, and only if he keeps his hands to himself."
    _____Colleen nodded rapidly and enthused, "Great, you're the best, Jessi!"
    _____"Just as friends, I said!"
    _____"I'll tell him, I swear."


    _____Hours later, Jessica lay upon her bed, in the darkness, wide awake and stark naked, surrounded by books. She had barricaded the door soon after Colleen had left. Jessica touched the opposing posts of the footboard with her toes, and imagined that her ankles were tightly bound apart. She stretched her left arm up and back, to grip the post of the headboard behind her. Jessica's right hand worked feverishly between her legs, but with the aid of her better than average imagination, she could convince herself that all four limbs were spreadeagled and tightly bound. She arched her back, slippery with sweat and exhausted by constant terror, and writhed in imagined agony, due to the mice. She had begged the men not to tie her down on the cellar floor again, because the mice would come again, and gnaw at her flesh. She felt their whiskers first, and by thrashing she could usually scare them away before they bit, but it had been hours, tied down here, and she was so tired, and so terrorized by the mice and so fatigued by the cold that it would almost seem a mercy when the horrible men finally came back and turned the lights on and scattered the mice and ravished her over and over until she lost consciousness.
    _____Jessica had lost track of how many days this torment had gone on, since she'd been snatched off the street on her way home from school. She could no longer tell for sure whether it was day or night, nor could she recall the last time she had slept. Not since before the abduction, she supposed. She couldn't sleep a wink, not with the mice that attacked relentlessly. She had killed or crippled many of them with her frenzied contortions, and now she rolled and thrashed on bloody carcasses, but the mice kept coming. Yet all the while there loomed the deeper dread, the sound of the heavy oak door above when it would open and shatter the darkness with a spear of bright light, and then the footsteps would come down the stairs. The first two times, it had been one pair of heavy boots, but last time, four men had come and used her body, and hurt her, and ravished her, and laughed at the bites all over her body, and the dead mice. The leader, her tormentor, the man with the obsidian-black mask, the man with no face, had roared furiously at the mess on his clean basement floor, the puddle of urine, and she had cried that she couldn't help it, she had held it so long, but he had punished her anyway, had stomped her stomach with his heavy boots, had aimed kicks between her slender legs, had driven his steel toed boot right up between her thighs so hard that she had feared he might shatter her pelvis. Then they had raped her, ravished her hard, to make her learn, and had declared she should have no dinner, and the leader had eaten her meager supper, the slab of bread and butter, right before her famished eyes. Hours or years later they had trudged back up the stairs, laughing and high-fiving each other, and had left Jessica chained naked to the stone floor to await the return of the mice.
    _____Her abductor had brought three friends last time, and in parting, he had promised that he would bring even more men next time, to entertain her. He had promised that they would have a real party.
    _____Next time.
    _____But then, for the first time since she had been imprisoned down here, she heard noise from a new direction, from above and behind her head, first a scratching that mercifully scattered the mice, and then the muffled tinkling of broken glass, followed by a loud, persistent pounding on what sounded like flimsy plywood, until splinters of wood burst into the room, pattering upon her naked body as the room was cloven in two by a shaft of bright sunlight. Then a voice, into the hole, carried in by the sunlight, the melodious voice of an angel.
    _____"Jessica? Jessica?"
    _____The girl's breath caught with the sheer incredulity of the voice, her savior, her angel, and he called two more times before she managed to sob, "Ronald? Ronald, is that you?"
    _____The pounding and clawing on the plywood became more frantic, and she burst into tears, sobbing, "Please hurry, Ronald, before they come!"
    _____Her angel rashly divulged, "They're upstairs, hold on," and Jessica's chest was filled with terror. Not for herself, but for her savior, her angel, who had placed himself in peril, just for her.
    _____Most everyone paid Ronald little account. To Jessica's mother, and her aunts, and Colleen, Ronald was just the young man who delivered the pizza on weekends. But Jessica knew better. Ronald led a secret existence, just for Jessica, in the role of her glorious angel.
    _____He tossed a sledgehammer through the cellar window, and it clattered on the floor. Her rapists must have heard it, because now Jessica heard muffled yells upstairs, and the pounding of boots upon the rafters as they raced for the cellar door.
    _____"Oh god, oh god oh god, Ronald, please hurry, save me!"
    _____"Coming," he said, pulling himself head-first through the window. He grabbed onto the basement's ceiling joists, flexing his massive arms with easy power, and he dropped in a lithe, fluid movement, like a cat, onto the floor. He wore bluejeans, boots, and nothing else. His long, dark curls draped down over the slabs of muscle on his chest, and his coal-black eyes smouldered as he looked down upon her ravished, emaciated form. "Oh, Jessica!"
    _____"Please, my love, they are coming!"
    _____But he had run out of time. "One moment," he snarled, and snatched up the heavy sledgehammer just as the stout oak door at the top of the stairs slammed open. Suddenly the small basement room exploded with harsh fluorescent light, and Jessica screamed with terror at the clomp-clomp of descending boots, but Ronald, the Pizza Boy, her angel and her god, charged them with the iron sledgehammer cocked over his head. The battle happened so fast that Jessica barely had time to exhaust her first scream. Ronald fought with a frenzy for his love, somehow wrested a knife from one of them, and had just managed to take down the fourth and final rapist before a gunshot rang out. Jessica screamed herself hoarse, and craned her head to see Ronald on all fours, stabbing down repeatedly into the torso of the monster with the gun. Then all was silent, except Ronald's hoarse, ragged breaths.
    _____"Ronald, oh god... Ronald? Please..."
    _____She heard him crawling toward her, his hoarse breath growing louder and more labored. Then he reared up into view, drenched with blood, both the blood of the monsters he had vanquished, and blood that pumped like a dam-break from the ragged hole in his chest.
    _____"Oh god, oh god Ronald, no, noooooo!"
    _____With the last of his strength he gently cut the leather straps and helped Jessica to remove the buckles from her ankles and wrists. Jessica registered the burning pain that returned to her hands and feet as blood flowed into her extremities for the first time in eternity, but how could she acknowledge that feeble pain with cries, with the death of her god and savior before her very eyes?
    _____She raised her little hands to his beautiful face, caressed his cheeks, bathed his forehead with her tears.
    _____"I love you, Jessica; I will always love you."
    _____"Oh Ronald, I love you too, please don't, please don't die! I'll get you out of here."
    _____He rolled weakly onto his back, and on every labored inhalation bubbles and spatters of fresh blood burst from his perforated lung like spittle.
    _____"I will save you, Ronald, hold on, don't die!"
    _____"No, no. Please, Jessi, just— just get out of here. Run, go now, before more of them come."
    _____"Noooo, no, Ronald!" she wept, clutching his face, caressing his long curls, "Come with me, get up, lean on my shoulder!"
    _____"Can't... can't, so tired...."
    _____"Don't you close your eyes, Ronald! Don't, give up, you can't die, you can't!"
    _____Jessica's attention began to drift. The vision dissipated; darkness took her, and she half-awoke with just enough lucid cognition to form a small smile. She would await the new dreams, the dreams to come, with anticipation. The Ronald fantasy needed more work. It might proceed with more realism, more plausibility, with minor adjustments. Maybe not a gunshot. Maybe just a knife wound. Not quite fatal. So that she would be able to thank her god and savior properly, whilst lovingly nursing his near-mortal wounds of passion. On further reflection, the story needed work in every respect. Pizza Boy as Adonis, indeed.
    _____Yes, Jessica decided with utter conviction as the darkness took her and pulled her back into sleep, she needed better material.
    _____Her dreams had always sufficed to entertain. Until lately. Jessica Elizabeth Turner, despite her humble upbringing, had never wanted for anything; had never found a single aspect of her life lacking. Lately, however, she would gaze at her reflection and behold someone strangely unfamiliar, a nascent beauty in search of an evasive and indefinable sublimation, a stranger transfixed by new, barely comprehensible desires.
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  10. #10
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    Default Chapter 2: Furniture, pt. f

    _____Carol's second day on the job passed with a semblance of normalcy, a procession of phone conferences and meetings, convened either there in the office or elsewhere, at venues that drew Dr. Spencer away. The second day had no visitations by furniture girls, and Carol devoted the full eight hours to production. She finally reached the bottom of her pile of corporate training materials by mid-morning, and began to actively assist in the office. She started to make a dent in the backlog of filing. She formulated a plan to reorganize and consolidate the filing system, so as to improve the efficiency of document retrieval.
    _____The only dark cloud was Dr. Spencer's disgruntled, vaguely irritable demeanor. He did not direct his antipathy at Carol specifically, and never once took it out on her. But every once in a while, she would catch him gazing at her with an expression of apparent dissatisfaction. At one point, in his absence, Carol self-consciously checked her blouse for wrinkles, inspected her pantyhose for runs, verified that she had put her thin red belt through all of the loops in her skirt that morning. She could find nothing out of place, and tried to put his persistent scowl out of her mind. Yet it went on all day, particularly when he came in and out of the office, on his way to and from meetings. He would look over at her, glare without a word, and then tuck the expression away if she betrayed a reaction.
    _____At the end of the day, he made his first attempt to be civil, by complimenting Carol for the large dent she had made in the filing backlog.
    _____She thanked him appreciatively, and confessed, "All day I've had the impression I had been displeasing you somehow."
    _____He blinked, shook his head, and demurred, "No, of course not; why would you think that?"
    _____Carol shrugged and said, "Maybe just a mistaken hunch."
    _____"Well, good evening, Mrs. Turner," he said.
    _____And as she walked out of the office, the truth suddenly dawned on her. He had been angry all day, livid, in fact, his fury and resentment cracking through the facade like wind through an old window frame, because she had withdrawn Jessica's photograph.
    End of Chapter 2. Next chapter(s) to come tomorrow, if there is interest.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  11. #11
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    Much cleaner then the earlier version I've read. I am savoring the opportunity o re-read Nascent.
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  12. #12
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. a

    Chapter 3: Matchmaker
    _____On Wednesday morning, Nelson Spencer dreaded returning to his own office. All day previous, he had thought he had been doing well, had believed himself to have effectively repressed his irritation that Carol had taken the daughter's photograph on Monday evening. He knew damned well why the abrupt revocation of the picture had infuriated him. In spite of his attempts not to allow his eyes to dwell upon the photograph, he had memorized it, and could visualize every minute facet of Mrs. Turner's daughter, from her lean, coltish legs, to her elfin figure, to the enigmatic smile and espresso brown eyes framed by long, straight chocolate hair. The young woman's still image had captivated and enthralled him on the momentum imparted by a precious few furtive glances. And on Monday night, he had searched the Internet, and had scoured the website of the school that Jessica attended, in a search for just one grainy photo of the young woman, but had come up empty when he had finally given up past midnight. He had consoled himself with the supposition that Carol Turner would bring a less risqué, less "racy" replacement on Tuesday morning. By that time, it would not have mattered to him if Carol brought in a picture of the girl bundled into a winter coat, as long as he would be able to see her pale heart-shaped face, depthlessly penetrative eyes, and Mona Lisa smile. On the following morning, Carol Turner had come in with no replacement at all, and when he had realized the photograph would not be replaced, he had been livid. But he had tamped it down, repressed the fire that raged in his chest. Or so he had thought. Carol Turner, perhaps motivated by some deep maternal instinct, had obviously seen right through him.
    _____Now he dreaded the confrontation that would surely come. Carol Turner knew, as well as he did, of his affliction. How would she react? Best case: he would lose yet another administrative assistant, and this one more promising than any other in recent memory. Good job, he castigated himself ruefully. Worst case: she would call him out for his profligacy. Maybe even report him to Human Resources. Not that the complaint would go far; he owned a third of the company's equity, after all. But it would get back to his father, which he did not want to deal with right now. He had crossed a line, most definitely. The workers and the furniture girls were supposed to dwell and operate on opposite sides of a strict divide, and by betraying an inexplicable and admittedly perverse attraction to Carol Turner's young daughter, he had most definitely crossed that divide. The furniture girls were definitely poisoning his mind, and now there would be hell to pay. Oh, well. Maybe some good would come of it, bring things to a head, give him the pretext to abolish the sales escort program once and for all. Sales would take a short term hit, no question, but the company would recover, and would come out of the forcible eradication stronger. With these dark thoughts circling furiously in his head, he stormed into his office at nine-thirty on Wednesday morning, a half hour late, ready for whatever would come.
    _____He immediately observed a new photograph on Carol Turner's desk, an eight-by-ten portrait set within a silver frame.
    _____Mrs. Turner had stepped out, so he just stood and stared. A different composition. More recent. Jessica Turner stood on a sidewalk with a redheaded friend, presumably waiting for a school bus, since they wore bookbags over their shoulders. A white skirt and half-top, dappled by large pastel polka dots, bared Jessica's lightly tanned midriff. Her blazing smile leapt across spacetime to set fate into motion like a plummeting hourglass. A small caption along the bottom of the photograph said, "Back to school, first day!"
    _____For the hundredth time, he wondered whether she could possibly have been eighteen.
    _____He tore his eyes away, both immensely relieved that the first photograph had been replaced, and adamant that he would not be caught, even once today, looking at the new one. He strode to his desk, turned his computer on, and immersed himself with work, so that he would appear oblivious to the change in scenery when Mrs. Turner reappeared.


    _____Carol had stopped in the cafeteria to make a quick assessment of the refrigerator, the microwaves, and the coffee makers. She could save money by avoiding the downtown convenience stores and sandwich shops, but only if she would be able to store provisions in the company cafeteria. A quick perusal convinced her of the adequacy of the facilities, and she sat at one of the tables to make a small shopping list of food, personal supplies, and plastic containers that she would use to neatly store her kitchen articles. That was when Vanessa Curtis sauntered in, wearing a smart gray business suit with a silver blouse. She took a seat across from Carol without invitation.
    _____"So," Vanessa broached unbidden, "he never told me. Producer or furniture?"
    _____Carol blushed and replied, with her eyes riveted to her list, "I'm not at liberty to say."
    _____"Huh. Producer. Fair enough." Vanessa pursed her lips and continued to silently assess Carol. Then she added, "You don't look it."
    _____"Look like what?" Carol asked, perplexed.
    _____"Like a producer. You look more like furniture."
    _____Carol muttered, "Umm, thank you, I think." She added a few more items to her list and bashfully looked up to see that Vanessa was still staring.
    _____"May I help you?"
    _____"I've had worse around here than Nelson," Vanessa confided.
    _____"You mean Dr. Spencer?"
    _____"Yes," she said, chuckling. "You are a babe in the woods, aren't you? You know, as I've said, I've had worse. Spencer at least appears to give a shit. I sometimes can't tell whether he has authentic pangs of conscience, or if it's just an act. I like to imagine that he really is conflicted, as he... does what he does to me. It helps me to persevere. Donner doesn't have a shred of pity or remorse. But then again, maybe it's just that Donner's been at it for so long that he no longer bothers with the pretense of decorum. Maybe you could shed some light on that, from the insider perspective."
    _____Carol had to fight back a nervous laugh, at the notion that Vanessa, of all people, would regard Carol as an insider. She simply muttered, "I'm sorry. I really couldn't say."
    _____"Huh. Well, I've enjoyed our little chat. I'll let you get back to it." Vanessa stood and departed, with an insolent shake of her cute little butt.
    _____Carol sighed, and finished her shopping list. Then she decided to start her coffee break early, and took a walk out to the Charles Street grocer.
    _____She returned with her supplies a half hour later, organized them into new plastic bins, labeled the bins, and put them up in the cabinets or on the racks of the refrigerator, as appropriate. Then she returned to the office. Dr. Spencer was working at his desk, typing on his computer and barking into the phone handset at the same time. He nodded curtly to acknowledge Carol's arrival, but didn't even bother to look at her. Carol pulled herself up short at her desk, because a torso and pair of feet emerged from underneath it: a technician, finally installing her own office phone. After a few moments he popped out from under the table, introduced himself, and handed Carol a cheat sheet.
    _____"Your voicemail password is 1234. You can change it to whatever you want. It's all there on the sheet. Also, how to set your greeting, listen to messages, delete messages, and transfer calls. There's a hundred other functions, but most days of the year that's all you have to know. Like I said, it's all there. Call support if you have any other questions."
    _____"Thank you very much."
    _____"Anytime," he said with a pronounced grin and a wink. Carol stared at the technician as he sauntered toward the door, and couldn't help but wonder two things: had he ever played with one of the furniture girls, and was he misapprehending that she might have been a furniture girl? Vanessa had just said, in the cafeteria, that Carol looked more like furniture than a producer, and Carol very much doubted that Vanessa was the only person in the company who would make that observation. But then the technician seemed to catch the eye of Dr. Spencer, who hit him with a cold glare. The technician double-timed it out of the office.
    _____Carol took a seat and scanned down the cheat sheet of her phone. She experimentally called her home phone. In order to receive voicemail, she would have to set her personal greeting, and for that she would wait until she was alone in the office.
    _____Dr. Spencer hung up and remarked, from his desk, "Sorry about Jorge. Always on the prowl. God's gift, or so he thinks."
    _____With a wry grin, Carol said, "He looked at me as though I were furniture."
    _____Dr. Spencer only said, "He should know better," and resumed typing.
    _____They exchanged no other words to each other for the rest of the morning, but at thirty minutes to noon, he snatched up his jacket and attaché. A keyring dangled idly from his otherwise empty ring finger. BMW. She sighed. The Turner family car was a twelve year old Ford Escort with silver duct tape plastered over the worst rust spots.
    _____"I won't be back until two o'clock at the earliest. Sales call."
    _____"Break a leg, sir."
    _____He chuckled and muttered, "A thespian."
    _____Carol averted her eyes; she had no idea what he meant, but she said, to her computer, "Pardon my saying so, but you seem to be more chipper today."
    _____He waited until she glanced at him, nodded curtly, and said, "I like what you have done to the place."
    _____She closed her eyes, shook her head, and muttered, "Men."
    _____The word shocked him, and abashed, he demanded, "What?"
    _____She rounded on him, hands on her knees, and said, "Sir, I've told you. I really don't mind. And if it mattered to you, whether or not I kept her picture here, you should have said something. Your... attraction... to my daughter is nothing to be ashamed of."
    _____He coldly said, "It is not an attraction. I just..." and then, to her utter astonishment, he blushed, but having been trained through seven years of undergraduate and graduate education to always finish a thought with coherency, he set his teeth with determination against the blush he felt rising in his own cheeks and soldiered on. "I just... it is just that she draws the eye. It can't be helped, an autonomous reflex, nothing more."
    _____"A reflex," Carol repeated skeptically.
    _____"Assuredly," the man insisted.
    _____She shook her head again, utterly exasperated, and said, "Sir, you'll be late. Drive safely, and good luck."
    _____He thought to turn the conversation back to the issue of the photograph, but decided instead to run with the change of subject. "Jeff Anderson is the one who needs luck. He didn't close the deal on Monday. I would have liked to have fired him, but I don't have the authority yet, and besides, I suppose it would have been too spiteful an impulse. So we are going back today, and I am holding his hand this time."
    _____"He should split the commission," she declared.
    _____Dr. Spencer barked out a loud, authentic laugh.
    _____She snorted and remarked, "So you, uhh, serviced Vanessa Curtis on Monday, and wasted your afternoon, for nothing."
    _____Dr. Spencer smirked and murmured, "You catch on quick, Mrs. Turner."
    _____"Drive safely, sir."
    _____"See you this afternoon."


    _____He returned at four thirty, in an even better mood. He barged in just as Carol reached the end of the backlog in filing.
    _____With a glance at the three or four remaining forms in the outbox, he said, "You're a lifesaver."
    _____"Whatever will I do with myself now?" she asked.
    _____"Don't retire yet, Mrs. Turner; I assure you that we will find something."
    _____He hung his jacket on a brass coat rack, and strode to his desk. Carol tried not to let her eye follow the pendulous sway of the silver and onyx cufflinks on his wrists. He punched his fingers on the keyboard, bringing up his email.
    _____Carol tentatively inquired, "So, it went well, then, sir? The sales call?"
    _____He absently said, "The Christmas bonuses ought to be good this year. Of more immediate concern, Anderson gets to keep his job. Funny how I am less than thrilled about how it has turned out."
    _____Carol didn't comment. She went on with her filing.
    _____At ten of five, she began to wrap things up, and tidy her worktable, which had been cluttered with papers destined for here or there. He noticed the change, and checked his watch.
    _____He remarked, with what measure of nonchalance he could manage, "Heading out soon, Mrs. Turner?"
    _____"Yes... if that's all right, sir. Unless you have more for me to do, of course."
    _____"Don't be ridiculous. You have children at home."
    _____"Yes. But several relatives look after them, and don't mind a bit. The thing is, sir, I don't want you to get the impression that I'm a clock watcher."
    _____"I have the impression that you are an industrious worker who takes initiative. And your family needs you. So don't be ashamed of striving to achieve some balance in your life."
    _____"If you say, so, sir. But I can stay late. If you have meetings to prepare for tomorrow, or whatever. I can call home to let them know, if need be. I can be flexible."
    _____"I will keep that in mind for the future, Mrs. Turner. But the agreed upon arrangement is a nine to five workday, and I will not be imposing upon you except in the event of dire need. Having school-aged children at home, you need and deserve to be able to count upon a dependable schedule."
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. b

    _____Over the remainder of Carol's first week, they established a routine. Dr. Spencer left task lists at her computer each morning. The assigned tasks were invariably ranked by priority, and the desired completion dates spanned months into the future. He never inquired as to the status of specific tasks, apart from just one remark, on Friday afternoon, a week after she had been hired, that he admired and valued her work ethic.
    _____Carol only gradually acquired a rudimentary comprehension of her supervisor's daily activities. He used advanced mathematics every day. Most of the books and journals that cluttered the ubiquitous shelves were either mathematics or physics texts.
    _____Dr. Spencer held a Ph.D. in mathematics, as well as an M.B.A., from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She had learned these particulars inadvertently, in the process of filing a two year backlog of papers. She had found his curriculum vitae buried in one of the immense stacks.
    _____The more she learned about him, the more she convinced herself that he and Jessica could have made a fine match, if only the timing had not been so atrocious. Why could Jessica not have been just a few years older? Carol dwelt upon the inopportune timing to the point of obsession, and grew progressively more resentful.


    _____On Saturday morning, Carol cradled a coffee mug in two palms, stared out the kitchen window, and idly catalogued the dimensions of her bitterness. Tommy's Playstation chattered its incessant inanities from the parlor, almost loudly enough to mask Billy's ragged snoring from the bedroom.
    _____She had been working full time for the first full week of her life, yet only three days' worth of dishes filled the sink. Neither Tommy nor Billy would have touched the dish soap. The six year old and his purported father did have one thing in common, that being their approximate maturation level.
    _____Jessica had to have been the one.
    _____Carol's eyes drifted upward, and fixated upon sheets of pink fiberglass that sagged beneath the plane of the ceiling. Billy had taken four ceiling tiles down, years ago, in pursuit of some long forgotten project. Not only had the endeavor fallen by the wayside, but he had ruined the tiles by leaving them out on the porch, exposed to the elements and partially crushed under a pile of rusty tools, through an entire winter. Fiberglass dust had been shedding and falling onto the kitchen counters and table ever since.
    _____A door opened down the hall. Billy's snores persisted. Small bare feet padded rapidly through the hall and passed into the kitchen. The feet could only have been Jessica's. Carol smiled to herself. She herself had failed in all respects apart from one: Carol's one success, dearest Jessica Elizabeth, would provide the means of her redemption.
    _____With the far edge of her peripheral vision, Carol observed that Jessica walked with a heavy textbook not three inches from her nose. She seemed to be doing homework on every waking moment, and she seldom ever slept.
    _____"Analytic geometry, Jess?"
    _____"I found this book in the school library."
    _____"It's Saturday, honey. You should find something fun to do."
    _____Jessica did not answer. The book challenged and entertained her. She barely understood half of the material that she read, but she methodically filed all the questions away in her compendious head. "Colleen and I will go jogging later," she said.
    _____Carol watched Jessica rummage blindly in the refrigerator, using only her sense of touch, while continuing to read. She emerged with a carton of milk. She shut the refrigerator door, and simply lingered, at an impasse, with the milk cradled under an arm and the book in two hands.
    _____Carol set her coffee mug down upon the counter, found a clean glass, and relieved her daughter of the milk carton.
    _____Jessica glanced up from her book to see her mother pouring the milk, and remarked, "Thanks, Mom. I could have done that."
    _____Carol returned the milk to the refrigerator and gestured toward the kitchen table. Together they sat down.
    _____Jessica pointedly closed her book, after first memorizing the page number, and inquired, "How was your first week at work?"
    _____Carol nodded briskly and said, "Good. Not great; just good. Nothing is ever perfect, is what I mean."
    _____Jessica did not require elaboration. She did ask, "But your boss: he is a good man to work for?"
    _____"Yes. I believe he is."
    _____"What is he like?"
    _____"Lonely," Carol replied.
    _____Jessica knew the meaning of loneliness. She got along with almost no one, and could tolerate the company of almost no one, apart from her Mom, and perhaps also her cousin and best friend, Colleen, in small doses.
    _____"What else can you tell me about him?"
    _____"He loves books."
    _____Jessica looked up from her glass of milk and book with a skeptical glare. No one, in her experience, loved books, apart from herself. But she was a freak. There were regrettably few freaks in the world, by definition, and even fewer of her particular strain. Hence her paucity of friends, and absence of soul mates, a lack that had vexed and saddened her more than a little bit, of late, for reasons that she did not understand.
    _____"Really," her mother insisted. "He does love books. Or at least, I would have to think that he does. He has about ten times as many books as you do."
    _____"Huh," replied Jessica, no less incredulous.
    _____"Then again, I suppose if you ever acquire even half his money, you'll beat him hands down."
    _____"Mmm," Jessica mused, "I have been in need of a healthy goal."
    _____Carol winked and said, "He also loves your picture."
    _____Jessica instantly flushed deep incarnadine. "What picture?"
    _____"I have your back-to-school picture on my desk. I've caught him checking it out three times."
    _____"Huh," replied Jessica again, more incredulous than ever. "Why would he check out a picture of me?"
    _____"Because you're beautiful; that's why."
    _____Jessica muttered imprecations.
    _____"You are."
    _____Jessica continued to mutter. Then she formed words. "He sounds like a fat old pervert."
    _____Mom's reaction shocked Jessica. Mom simply chuckled and smiled to herself.
    _____Jessica warily demanded, "What?"
    _____Carol gazed contemplatively at the fiberglass that hung from the opened ceiling and said, "Oh, nothing. Just that I don't think there's an ounce of fat on him."
    _____For the third time in two minutes, Jessica muttered, "Huh."
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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    Like it so far - the sweetness is growing.
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. c

    _____Yet another Monday inevitably rolled around, as Mondays are wont to do, and with it came another Correction Day.
    _____Carol intentionally arrived an hour late, so as not to catch Dr. Spencer in the midst of another early morning interview with the likes of Sara Rice or Vanessa Curtis. While she killed time in the company cafeteria, she wondered, just briefly, whether the thought of Dr. Spencer in the company of some college aged harlot disgusted or disheartened her. Then she castigated herself with a stern double-edged admonishment: first, that it was folly to imagine Jessica and Dr. Spencer together; and second, that Jessica was made for, and deserved, much better than the likes of him.
    _____In fact Carol's anxieties that morning turned out to be needless, because he had cancelled all appointments at seven in the morning. Nevertheless, Carol inadvertently did him a service with her tardiness, because she gave him that much more time to contemplate Jessica's photograph.
    _____He had barely managed to convince himself, on the hour-long drive into the city, that he needed to get into the office to prepare for a mission-critical eleven o'clock meeting with Stanley Ableton, the principal of the company's most vital process automation engineering consultancy. In fact, however, he could have prepared for the meeting at home, in his study, with no less efficacy. The truth— and it struck him as rather pathetic— was that the photograph of Carol Turner's daughter had vexed him through the previous week, a condition rendered that much more acute over the weekend, by dint of its absence.
    _____The caption at the bottom of the photograph read, "Back to school, first day!"
    _____Why, why, why could the caption not have explicated the young woman's grade?
    _____Surely she had to be a senior! Could she not have been a mature young woman soon to be eighteen? Yet she looked so young, despite her evident maturity. On the one hand, he bitterly remonstrated, her age did not matter. She was the daughter of an employee. Besides, he already had women, women in excess; truth be told, his life did not have room for the encumbrances who already weighed upon him with their tedious demands for his time.
    _____Over the weekend, while sitting alone in his study, mesmerized by the play of sunlight upon crests in a shallow stream that meandered below his window, it had dawned on him that Jessica's age might have been noted on the back of the photograph.
    _____The possibility had gnawed at him all weekend like an insidious obsession. He had told himself, a hundred times, that he would not open the photograph's backing to check.
    _____On Monday, at seven o'clock in the morning, he handled the photograph and its silver frame like a priceless artefact. Using a field knife that he had brought for this particular use, he carefully popped the corner braces from behind the frame, and raised the corrugated cardboard backing with the tip of the blade.
    _____Nothing. Neither an age, nor a birth date, nor even her grade.
    _____Dr. Nelson Spencer reassembled the frame, set the picture back in its place, and stared at the image of Carol Turner's daughter for two straight hours.
    _____He knew that he could ask the mother for Jessica's age. But if he did that, what would the act tell the mother about him? The answer, of course, would depend on Jessica's age. If she turned out to be eighteen, or seventeen going on eighteen, the mother might be flattered by his interest. But what if she was only just recently turned seventeen, a high school junior? Or even sixteen? Surely she could not be sixteen!. Yet, if she did turn out to be only sixteen, what would that say about him? He, a twenty-six year old man, coveting the teenaged daughter of his administrative assistant?
    _____Carol arrived at ten in the morning and found him at his desk, preparing for a meeting that would occur in one hour.
    _____"Stanley Ableton is the principal shareholder of a family business not dissimilar to this one. He and my father go back a long way. His company is a very important business partner. Stanley will be coming with two of his sons. If you would be so kind as to take notes, I would appreciate it."
    _____"Of course, sir."
    _____At eleven o'clock Dr. Spencer received three gentlemen, one of whom looked fit yet distinguished, a man clearly well past the customary age of retirement, yet one for whom age and time had been both generous and kind. The silver haired man carried himself with quick alacrity and boomed a gregarious hail as he walked through the door.
    _____The two younger men who followed him could only have been his sons. They had athletic builds reminiscent of Dr. Spencer himself, and they had to be in their late thirties. All three men wore wedding bands.
    _____Dr. Spencer made terse introductions, and in so doing, artfully impressed upon the men, without explicitly saying so, that Carol was a producer, and not a so-called furniture girl. His subtle preemptory admonishments did not persuade the men to abstain from letting their eyes rove up and down Carol's legs whenever they thought they could get away with it.
    _____Carol suspected, this being Correction Day, that the men might have taken even bolder liberties, since she so disarmingly resembled the sales escorts, if Dr. Spencer had invited them to proceed or had otherwise encouraged them. But throughout the meeting, Carol could tell that Dr. Spencer's demeanor was perfunctory, and that he only wanted the interview to end.
    _____Although Carol spent most of the meeting simply trying to weather the subliminal sexual innuendo and avoid the errant gazes of the younger gentlemen, a curious exchange occurred, at the very end, over which she could not help but wonder.
    _____As the meeting wrapped up, the oldest of the three men, Mr. Stanley Ableton, shook Dr. Spencer's hand and remarked, "Just a reminder, Nelson, that you have another appointment for this afternoon."
    _____"Yes, I did notice that one on the calendar this morning. Couldn't really help it, and I found myself a bit surprised. Not at all sure how it got onto my calendar, to be honest."
    _____The old man grinned cautiously and said, "I did clear it with Vernon."
    _____"Hmmm," Dr. Spencer mused, "isn't Laura back in school?"
    _____"Yeah, but she'll be on her way over here in a cab after final bell. Looking forward to it, in fact."
    _____"I am sure she is. Stan, I assure you that I am looking forward to it, too."
    _____To Carol, his assurance sounded a bit too forced. After a mere week, she already knew him. But then again, most men, in her experience— even the purportedly educated and sophisticated variety— possessed a disappointing paucity of layers.
    _____"Well, good, then. But could I ask for just one favor in return, privately?" he added, glancing significantly at Carol.
    _____Dr. Spencer said, "Mrs. Turner is a professional, and she has my complete trust. What is your favor, Stan?"
    _____Stanley Ableton, with palms up, reasoned, "Nelson, I have to say this. You really shook her up last time. I don't know what the hell you did to her, but she gave me the cold shoulder for a week and swore she'd never come back."
    _____Dr. Spencer just chuckled at this and said, "No offense, Stan, but if she never came back, it would not be the end of the world."
    _____This remark seemed to bother Stanley Ableton even more than whatever Dr. Spencer allegedly had done to the woman on the previous encounter. He growled, "Look, all I'm asking is, could you try to go easy on her?"
    _____Dr. Spencer just chuckled again, a knowing laugh that seemed to infuriate the man, and said, "Anything for you, Stan. You know that."
    _____"Well... okay, then. That's all I have to say. Good day to you."
    _____Dr. Spencer nodded curtly, and held the door for them.
    _____When the door closed, Dr. Spencer groused, "Well, it looks as though I won't make it through Correction Day unscathed after all."
    _____Carol carefully said, "I did see that you have a female appointment at three-thirty, and I had wondered. But now I also wonder, why would this Stanley Ableton care so much about the health and welfare of a furniture girl?"
    _____Dr. Spencer smirked and replied, "Because this furniture girl is Stan's granddaughter, that's why."
    _____Carol gasped, "But those men are his sons— does that mean—"
    _____"You're quick, Mrs. Turner. But, no. Laura's father was not in the room. That would have been strange indeed." He chuckled darkly, and added, "Stan has four sons. Laura is a daughter of the oldest."
    _____"Ahhh. And when you asked whether she was back in school...."
    _____He sighed and replied, "As I have just said, you are quick. Not college. High school. Senior year. Just about eighteen." He caught Carol's astonished expression and sighed again. "You know the drill, Mrs. Turner. If you would prefer to take a coffee break."
    _____He had already returned to his desk, where, no doubt, at least ten messages awaited. Already, his demeanor struck her as dismissive.
    _____Dr. Spencer had warmed to Jessica's picture. Last week. Already, that shred of affectation seemed to have expended itself. Last week, he had refused to receive Sara Rice, and he had appeared to indulge Vanessa Curtis stoically, almost unwillingly. At the time, Carol had convinced herself that his attraction to Jessica had cooled and tempered his enthusiasm for the sales girls. Yet in just one week, apparently, his fleeting attraction to Jessica had dissipated. He had not glanced at her photograph once all of that morning. And he had just said, to the grandfather, that he looked forward to the afternoon interview with this Laura. Carol wondered what more she would have to do, to maintain his interest in her daughter, if indeed any shred of interest had existed. Maybe it had been her imagination all along, wishful thinking empowered by unsavory fantasy, and nothing more.
    _____"Yes, Mrs. Turner?"
    _____"I get the sense that Mr. Ableton is a vendor, not a customer."
    _____"Correct in one, Mrs. Turner. He is a supply side business partner, and not a customer. His engineers help us to improve the productivity of our fabrication lines. In fact we are Stan's customer, and not the other way around."
    _____"Well, then you don't really owe him anything, do you?"
    _____"What are you suggesting?"
    _____She slowly said, "Just that, if you really would rather not take this afternoon appointment, and umm, entertain Mr. Ableton's granddaughter, couldn't you just cancel?"
    _____"Ahh, would that I could. He is a very old friend of my father. It is politically impossible. Mrs. Turner, thanks for the sentiment, though. I would cancel, were it possible. I know you will not believe this, and you will no doubt think me nuts for saying it, but honestly: I have been weary of Correction Day for quite some time. It is a tradition I would love to abolish, but for the present... impossible. Once again, feel free to make yourself scarce this afternoon."
    _____She nodded, with apparent acquiescence, but she knew very well that there was no way she would miss meeting Stanley Ableton's granddaughter. Carol had to know exactly what Jessica was up against.
    _____Dr. Spencer had already delved back into his computer, hard at work.
    _____"Sir, I'm off to lunch."
    _____"Oh, okay, very well. Take your time, Mrs. Turner," he added, and fought the urge to beg her, once again, not to hurry back.
    _____Carol left for lunch without another word.
    _____She returned at three o'clock. The high school aged furniture girl, Laura, the granddaughter of Stanley Ableton, had not yet turned up. Dr. Spencer still hunched over his computer keyboard, no doubt stiff from immobility, as though he had not moved an inch in the past three hours. "Hello, Mrs. Turner," he hailed absently.
    _____Carol took her seat and ventured, "Do you really think this Laura is coming, sir?"
    _____He grumbled, "It is all too likely."
    _____"From the way Mr. Ableton talked, he implied some reluctance on her part."
    _____"Hah. Old Stan doesn't know his own granddaughter. Poor old Stan is convinced that I spoiled his darling angel on our last encounter. But that is nonsense. She knew exactly what she was doing, and what to expect; she has been getting it for years."
    _____Mrs. Turner raised an amused eyebrow and said, "Not by anything in your league, though, if the other handbook can be believed."
    _____He chuckled, "No, I grant you that."
    _____Their eyes, almost inexplicably, were simultaneously drawn to Jessica's photograph. Carol contemplated her daughter in juxtaposition to this grown, mature, formidable gentleman who dared not to fancy her. Dr. Nelson Spencer lost himself in the photograph's arcane complexities, absent of any coherent thought whatsoever. Thus, the young lady's wryly bemused mother caught him at it again, and found herself indecently pleased, and silently castigated herself for feeling that way.
    _____"This Laura Ableton must be beautiful," Carol Turner ventured.
    _____"In her own way," Dr. Spencer reluctantly conceded, tearing his eyes away from Jessica's photograph in order to summon the words.
    _____Carol blushed like a schoolgirl herself, as she heard the damning question spill from her mouth, "And Jessica? Do you find her beautiful, in her own way?"
    _____Dr. Spencer's head snapped back to his computer, and he muttered, barely above the range of audibility, "Finding your daughter beautiful does not require effort, Mrs. Turner."
    _____Their eyes met.
    _____"Of that much, I can assure you," he added for emphasis.
    _____Carol exhaled for the first time since she had asked the question, and said, "Well that's fortunate."
    _____"Fortunate how?"
    _____"I have already told her that you find her pretty. She'll be happy to hear it confirmed."
    _____With a nonplussed expression he demanded, "Why would it matter to her, one way or another? She doesn't know the first thing about me, and in any event it could not possibly matter, either way."
    _____Carol scowled out the window, and could not meet his eyes. He was right, of course, and despite twenty-eight years of experience to inform her reaction, she could barely summon the strength to concede the point. "You're right, sir. It doesn't matter. And it makes no difference."
    _____Carol returned to her filing, and would say no more.


    _____Forty minutes later, they heard a timid knock on the office door. Both Dr. Spencer and Carol Turner looked up in response.
    _____"Ahh, Mrs. Turner, it might be too late for you to call it an early day."
    _____On cue, Miss Laura Ableton entered.
    _____Mrs. Carol Turner, not without reason, bristled with envy and jealousy at the mere sight of the young woman in the doorway. She had just taken a cab from school, straight into town. She wore a knee length tan Burberry skirt and a white silk blouse draped by a fine low-cut cardigan sweater with silver buttons. She wore a jewel encrusted wristwatch and a heart pendant on a thick gold chain. Golden blonde hair framed her perfect face and ample bosom. Laura had a firm, pert butt, enticingly accentuated by the arch of her back and the book-laden calfskin knapsack strapped to her shoulders. Thick lashes framed her blue eyes, and a small upturned nose perched above a round mouth with perfect white teeth. She stood there cringing, arms crossed, clearly unhappy to have come.
    _____"Ahh, Laura, honey, come on in and shut the door."
    _____She turned to comply, and gave them a show of her exquisite posterior. She closed the door and said, "Grandpa asked me to come over. I didn't want to."
    _____Dr. Spencer insisted, "Well I am glad that you did, and I am sure Grandpa appreciates it, too."
    _____Laura took a timid step forward, and upon noticing Carol for the first time, stopped to glare. Carol glared right back.
    _____Laura was evidently a pampered young lady, not quite eighteen, yet by appearances seventeen-going-on-twenty-one, a child of well-to-do parents, a young woman who excelled at everything, from sports to academics. No doubt she had lots of boyfriends, at least as many girlfriends, and innumerable farflung secret admirers. In other words, Laura no doubt took for granted the sort of life that Carol had lost at the tender age of fourteen, by having been molested by both Billy and his father on the same evening. And now here Laura Ableton stood, her face contorted with resentment, as she built her trust fund like a resourceful little slut by doing sexy business favors for her good old grandpa.
    _____Yet even Laura Ableton appeared to be questioning her own judgment, having walked back into the lair of Dr. Nelson Spencer for a reprise of their last encounter. She had obviously undergone some sort of trauma in this office before.
    _____Carol had no sympathy for this buxom young tart who would all too likely steal Dr. Spencer away, before Jessica even had a chance. Why, Carol wondered, should debutantes like Laura Ableton get all the chances and all the breaks? What chances did Jessica have? Shouldn't she get a break, too, and a chance to land an esteemed gentleman like Dr. Spencer? Hadn't Jessica already drawn his fancy, merely by dint of a couple innocuous photographs? Sure, Jessica had a few years to go, but what difference would that make, a few years hence, after the passage of time and its facility for mending that single irritating disparity? Why should Jessica be denied at least the courtesy of a fair chance? Thus ran the sum extent of Carol's crudely sketched thought process, and an impeccably coiffed hussy like Laura Ableton might be just the wrench to scuttle the stillborn plot.
    _____Dr. Spencer had virtually implored Carol to leave, yet she insisted on staying, for whatever reason. So be it. He sighed and came around the desk; he walked right up to his resentful young guest. He reached back at the same time to help her shrug off the heavy book bag, which he dropped upon Carol's table. Then he bent down to kiss Laura's cheek, and took her by the waist.
    _____Laura cringed from his embrace. "Umm, like I said, I, umm, didn't even want to come."
    _____"Well," he mused, "you are here now, and that is all that matters."
    _____She glared up at him and said, "Yeah, well, umm, I have a lot of homework, and it's a weekday, and I have a test tomorrow, so, umm, couldn't we, you know...."
    _____"Get it over with?" he finished. "Yes, honey, of course, I couldn't agree more. Come on over here, up onto the desk like last time."
    _____She just stood there, arms crossed, glaring first at him and next at the desk, which she eyed with revulsion. Then she threw her head back toward Carol and asked, "Is she gonna leave?" Even as she said it, Laura was of two minds on the matter, embarrassed to have a strange woman in the room, yet also afraid to be left alone with Dr. Spencer.
    _____Laura had asked a prescient question, of course. Nelson had been wondering the exact same thing. He took the teenager's hands, led her with gentle but insistent force to his desk, and said, "Don't mind Mrs. Turner. She is my assistant, and she has work to do and won't pay any attention. And in a moment I am sure she will get right out of our way."
    _____Laura cringed against the side of the desk, while he started to take the cardigan sweater off her shoulders. "Dr. Spencer, what are you gonna do to me?"
    _____He chuckled, "What do you think, honey? What would any man do to you?"
    _____She glared at him, shaking. "Grandpa said you wouldn't hurt me this time. He said I could, umm, like," and she looked back at Carol, who glared at her computer in fury.
    _____Dr. Spencer listened patiently while carefully folding the girl's cardigan. He prompted "What, Laura? What did your grand-dad say you could do?"
    _____She whispered, blushing scarlet, "That I could, umm, just suck it, and that would be enough."
    _____He chuckled at her supposition and said, "Well, that would be nice, for starters, but I didn't think you wanted to. Last time you didn't want to do that. 'Too yucky,' you had said."
    _____He had succeeded in removing just one article of Laura's clothing. It would have to suffice. Now he guided the pretty blonde around to his oak desk chair, and she stammered, "Yeah, but that was before, umm, you know, you let me see it. You got carried away, Dr. Spencer. It really hurt me last time. You're too big for me, I think, and umm, this time I want to suck it instead."
    _____He ignored her nervous jitters, sat back in his chair, and pulled her up between his legs, cupping the cheeks of her pretty bottom. He looked up at her and said, "Well you are a beautiful young woman, Laura, and that sounds great for starters. Will you promise to look up at me while you do it so I can see your pretty eyes? Do you think you can do that?"
    _____She grimaced at the ceiling, then looked down at him, eyes full of tears, and nodded. Then she looked away, angry at herself for having assented to the concession.
    _____He caressed the undercurves of her bottom through her skirt and asked, "Haven't you ever sucked a boyfriend, Laura?"
    _____She nodded, "Once. But he didn't make me swallow. He took it out of my mouth and let me finish him with my hand. Can we do it like that?"
    _____He shrugged and said, "We can try, honey, but I don't know if I will be able to control myself. You are so pretty that I might not be able to stop in time. If a little salty-sour taste gets into your mouth, you will be okay, won't you?"
    _____She hissed, "Look, mister, I'll do this for you, okay? But just like, don't come in my mouth. That's all I ask."
    _____"Okay, Laura honey, I promise. Just try to relax," he urged, undoing his trousers. "You are so tense. Why are you so tense?"
    _____She glared at him and whispered, "She's still here. She won't leave. And I don't like how you're touching me."
    _____He squeezed the undersides of her butt, his hands right under her skirt now, fingers wriggling under her panties, making her squirm. "I touched you this way last time, and a lot of other ways, too, and you didn't mind."
    _____A tear rolled down Laura's cheek. "Yeah, but then you hurt me. You said you wouldn't. You promised, and then you hurt me anyway."
    _____Laura felt his fingers go right up into her panties, caressing the crease of her bottom, and she grabbed at his arms, trying ineffectually to pull them away.
    _____He calmly said, "I couldn't help myself, honey. You are so beautiful and sexy; I just couldn't resist. No man could. You are so resentful; what is wrong? Not just that you were so sexy last time that I got carried away, I hope."
    _____She bit her quivering lip and glared at him. Tears welled up in her pretty eyes. "There's something else."
    _____Carol watched now, out of the corner of her eye, and listened, intrigued and gratified to see the little tart in anguish.
    _____"What is it, honey?"
    _____"I'm late, and I don't know what to do."
    _____"Late? What do you mean, late?"
    _____"Like, as in late for my period?"
    _____He threw his head back with a comprehending smile, and then leaned right forward, kissing her left breast before she could stop him. "Don't worry, it will come."
    _____"I'm two days late and I've always been on time, always. It was a bad time of month, Dr. Spencer. I told you. I told you I'm not on the pill, and you promised you'd pull out, and you didn't."
    _____"It felt so good inside you; I couldn't hold back."
    _____"Well you hurt me really bad, because you're too big for me. And you're an older guy. I mean, fuck! Older guys are supposed to know how to pull out!"
    _____"Well I did as soon as I could, didn't I?"
    _____She really squirmed and hopped now, with her attempts to evade his middle finger, which probed into her sweet, tight cleft, and his thumb, which rubbed up against the bundle of nerves at the top of her sex. "Not in time! You didn't pull out in time, and lots of your stuff went in, and now I'm late, and what if I'm pregnant?"
    _____He soothed, "Laura, that was three weeks ago. You are not pregnant. You are just two days late. You will probably have your period by tomorrow morning. Now be a good girl for your Grandpa and Dr. Spencer, and don't worry about getting pregnant. You promised to do something for me, remember? You said you have done this before, so why don't you take it out of my boxers and show me how talented you are."
    _____"I don't know if I can do this. I don't even want to be here."
    _____Laura had already said, upon stepping through the door, that she had not wanted to come. Nelson already knew that Laura Ableton liked to imagine herself being forced into unwilling submission. Maybe this time, given the extenuating circumstances of her late period, there might have been more to Laura's protests than feigned distress. More to the point, Mrs. Turner had heard Laura's equivocation, too. Nelson resolved, in little more than an instant, to offer Laura Ableton an out.
    _____Carol detected Dr. Spencer's reluctance to proceed, perhaps before he had even made his decision to relent. In that split second, she inclined her head infinitesimally, perceived the focus of Dr. Spencer's gaze, and then turned to stare straight at him. He looked back, straight into her eyes, but for just a fraction of a moment, she could have sworn that she had caught him staring neither at herself, nor at Laura Ableton, but at Jessica's photograph. Then their eyes met, and he silently dared her to react. She tore her eyes away, spun back around to her own computer monitor, and gripped the edge of her work table with both knuckles, staring at the eight-by-ten portrait of Jessica at the school bus on the day of her return to school, proudly wearing her brand new polka dot outfit. And Carol felt disgusted with herself, revolted, because her lascivious imagination juxtaposed her own daughter with this satyr and his apparently monstrous virility.
    _____Carol Turner, God help her, felt herself becoming aroused by that juxtaposition.
    _____The moment passed.
    _____Nelson said, "Laura, if you do not want to be here, far be it from me to keep you."
    _____Laura flushed scarlet and stammered, "But— but I've just taken a cab all the way into town."
    _____"Either you want to be here, or you do not."
    _____Umbrage colored her response. "I just— I'm nervous, that's all."
    _____"Well, why don't you take some more of your clothes off," he suggested.
    _____She said, "You didn't say I had to undress."
    _____"If I am going to pull out of your mouth at the end, we don't want to soil your pretty silk blouse, do we?"
    _____She had no answer for this, but she made no move to unbutton her bodice, either.
    _____He sighed and asked, "The last boy you did this for, what was his name?"
    _____"Roger," she mumbled.
    _____"How old is he?"
    _____"Seventeen at the time. He's a senior, too," she said, looking up at him with her baby blues, "and he's really nice."
    _____"Has Roger made love to you in your belly, too, Laura?"
    _____She hesitated and quietly said, "A couple times, umm, before we broke up... I'm going with someone else now... but Roger always wore a condom. And my new boyfriend does, too."
    _____He went on, "Why did Roger dump you, if he is so nice?"
    _____She glared at him and said, "I don't know."
    _____"Well, he must have had his reasons, and I am sure it had nothing to do with you."
    _____"You're sick; I hate you," she replied.
    _____"Well, no matter," he said, with apparent disinterest in her response. He picked up the sweater and handed it to her. She took it numbly.
    _____Nelson came around his desk and conferred with Carol. He jotted a note on a slip of paper and opened his wallet. "Please take this money. Escort Laura down to a cab. Give the driver this address. Give him a big tip. She lives out in Newtonville." Nelson Spencer, with quick alacrity, predicted that Mrs. Carol Turner would have no problem whatsoever with this errand. Indeed, Carol's eyes blazed with vindictive triumph.
    _____Laura's ears burned. She tried to protest.
    _____Nelson ignored her and took a call.
    _____Carol consoled Laura on the way down to the lobby. "You must be relieved that it has worked out this way. Deep down inside."
    _____"Yeah, right. I'm preggers, deep down inside. I just know it."
    _____Carol pinched Laura's cheek and said, "Well cheer up, sweety, and look on the bright side. Right or wrong, Dr. Spencer will really enjoy using you next time." She said this with a tone of dispassion, knowing how cruel it must have sounded to the high school senior, but given Carol's perception of the young tramp as competition against Jessica, she could not have been expected to summon pity.
    _____She hailed a cab and handed the directions, with a prepayment, to the driver.
    _____Carol returned to the office and found Dr. Spencer sprawled in his chair, behind his desk, slowly stroking himself. Before him, upon the desk, he had set the silver framed portrait of Jessica. He abruptly looked up, registered Carol's return, and fumbled with his pants in a frenzied attempt to stow his erection.
    _____"Sir, don't," she hurriedly said, rushing around the desk to join him.
    _____He looked up furtively.
    _____Now Carol whispered in Nelson's ear. Or maybe it was just his imagination. Or hers. Or Laura had never left, and with some fragmented shard of consciousness, imagined the monster and his administrative assistant in cahoots, conspiring to rape her and leave her for dead. Narratives should not capriciously wander between points of view, one of the actors chided, and while the other cast members agreed in principle, nothing could be done about it. The tableau lost all sense of coherence, but the players upon the stage no longer had need of verities. Any one of them could have heard the whisper, or believed to have done so.
    _____Considerations of causality aside, the voice of Mrs. Carol Turner was thought to have whispered, "She's so pretty and sweet; does she feel nice inside?"
    _____Nelson could only blink. Did the mother refer to Laura Ableton and her ongoing despoliation, or to the precocious daughter who looked out from within the silvered frame?
    _____"I don't mind, Dr. Spencer. I've told you that I'm not offended by the way you feel about her."
    _____Carol would do whatever she could, to take his mind entirely off the Newtonville prom queen, Laura Ableton.
    _____He leaned back in his chair, still holding himself in front of the mother, and declared, with the tone of a mendicant prostrate before Christ Himself, "I am nothing more than an animal."
    Mrs. Carol Turner finished, "An animal with a job to do. I am not embarrassed by this, sir, and you needn't be, either."
    _____"You are far too understanding, Mrs. Turner."
    _____He imagined her to reply, with his own diction and elocution, "I do not know if I understand. But I do know that I know men. And you want to decorate Jessica's photograph. Your sex is so magnificent, so desperate, so fraught."
    _____Yet in her exhortations he imagined also that he heard her consternation, that she gnawed at her lip, tormented by guilt over her complicity.
    _____At some point he lost even the barest rudiments of volition. The mother had to take over for him. She grasped him in two hands and aimed him toward the epicenter of Jessica's back-to-school portrait.
    _____Dr. Nelson Spencer opened his eyes, blinked and realized that Carol had never been in the room. He blinked again and observed, with concomitant relief and dejection, that the photograph had never left Mrs. Turner's worktable. The demarcation between reality and his lewd imagination had irrevocably devolved.
    _____He just managed to zip himself back up and straighten his clothes when the door opened. Carol strode right in, momentarily contemplated the malodorous air, turned to the room's rheostat, and cranked the air conditioning.
    _____She said, "I intentionally took a long walk. After seeing Laura into a cab."
    _____He nodded silently, his mind awhirl. So, she had never come back up, after having escorted Laura. He had imagined at least some of the afternoon's debauchery. Apparently the sophomoric marking of territory had been mere fantasy, as evinced by the unsullied portrait, there on his assistant's worktable, set in its silver frame, where it had been all along.
    _____Now he had to wonder about the true depth and breadth of his madness. Had Laura Ableton been there in the first place, or had he cancelled the appointment? Then again, for all he knew, Laura had only dropped by on a social call, had never submitted to him. After all, Mrs. Turner had not yet slapped him with the full force of her arm.
    _____Instead, Carol murmured, "Well, at least now we are on the same page, sir."
    _____"In what respect, Mrs. Turner?"
    _____"Now the matter of my daughter can be addressed more... candidly."
    _____He gruffly muttered, "There is nothing to address."
    _____Carol did not believe him, not for an instant. Truly, she needed this job desperately, and he might summarily terminate her, if she overstepped, purely on grounds of propriety. Yet she had seen him stealing glances at Jessica's portrait, and she stood convinced of his attachment, despite its forbidden nature.
    _____"I mean only to refer to the imbalance."
    _____"What imbalance, Mrs. Turner?"
    _____"You have seen Jessica's photographs. She is pleased that you find her attractive."
    _____"That is a considerable overstatement, Mrs. Turner. Reckless, even."
    _____"Okay... perhaps attractive is the wrong word. At the very least, she draws your eye."
    _____He sighed and conceded, "I am afraid that cannot be helped."
    _____"Too true. My point is that you have seen her picture, and she has not seen yours. She is naturally curious, and has been asking about you, these past few days. She is an inquisitive girl, and my descriptions of you don't seem to satisfy her. I am not good at that sort of thing, you see. And where you have seen two of her pictures, I just get the feeling that she is feeling a little bit left out."
    _____He tapped his chin deliberatively for more than a minute, and finally appeared to come to some resolution when he said, "Well, we can certainly do something about that."
    _____Carol watched him open a desk drawer and retrieve from a folder a recent copy of Fortune. He placed the magazine face down on the scanner bed of a color inkjet printer, and made a copy, which he handed to Carol without a word.
    _____She looked down in astonishment, to see her supervisor's portrait on the cover, with the heading, 'Young Leaders Edition: Dr. Nelson Spencer, Defying the Decline of American Industry.'
    _____On a whim that he would later regret as foolhardy, he held his hand out for the sheet, and he penned a note on the obverse:

    _________Dear Jessica,

    _____I am fortunate to have my office brightened by your back-to-school portrait. You are a beautiful young woman. This photograph is my small way of returning the favor.
    _________Dr. Spencer

    _____He handed the portrait to Carol, and said, "There, a little something you can take home to her tonight."
    _____"Thank you, sir," Jessica's mother said. "I am certain she will appreciate it."
    _____Nelson took a deep breath, and already regretted the foolhardy act of exposure. He almost demanded to have the picture back, but he realized that if he made such a demand, then Mrs. Turner would certainly withdraw the silver framed portrait with finality.
    _____Carol hastily slipped the photocopy into a manila folder and buried it deep inside her handbag.
    _____Nelson ground his teeth together in frustration, and returned to work.
    _____Carol left for the evening, before Dr. Spencer could change his mind about the contraband in her handbag.
    _____Nelson watched her race out of the office and whispered, in her wake, "Good night to you."
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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    Quote Originally Posted by tbear99999 View Post
    Like it so far - the sweetness is growing.

    _____Thank goodness, because this version is all about the sweetness.
    _____Nelson still has a demon or two to conquer, before he will be ready for love, yet at the same time I have striven to portray him as capable of healing.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. d

    _____Back home, Carol found Jessica and Tommy watching television with their grandfather. Prior to going off to the night shift, Billy had taken the kids upstairs to have his mother cook for them. To be more precise, Tommy and William Sr. watched television. Jessica studied on the floor, with six open books arrayed in a semicircle from shoulder to shoulder.
    _____Carol tried without success to ignore the way William Sr.'s eyes roved up and down her office attire. She crisply, awkwardly thanked him for watching Tommy and Jessica.
    _____He leered, "You can thank me later, sugarbuns."
    _____She warily said, "Bill, those days are long over."
    _____Six year old Tommy might have been oblivious to the tension, but Jessica looked like a bundle of nerves. Their Gramma Mary busied herself at the kitchen counter, characteristically unperturbed by Carol's habitual tribulations.
    _____William Sr. whispered, grabbing at her ass, "Days ain't over in my book, and yeh don't make the orders aroun' here, missy."
    _____Jessica listened intently, with her face buried deep in the analytic geometry text, yet she glared right through the pages. She detested being called 'girly' by Dearest Daddy. All the more, she hated hearing her mother addressed as 'missy' by Grampa Bill.
    _____"Bill, the children can hear, and this is not an appropriate conversation."
    _____He shrugged and said, dismissively, "Well just listen t'yeh, with yer new job, gettin' all uppity. Kids," he called out to Tommy and Jessica, "why don't yeh head downstairs an' get ready fer bed; it's a school night."
    _____The kids kissed their grandfather and grandmother goodnight.
    _____Carol did not appreciate the way William Sr. tried to pat Jessica's bottom. Jessica giggled in a belabored sort of way, and twisted her hip to avoid his hand. In the past Jessica would have let him do it. She was getting older, growing up, growing old enough to find his lascivious attentions unwholesome, and to resent them.
    _____Carol listened for the descent of both pairs of feet down the stairs, and then heard the door to their flat open and close. Now that the children were out of earshot, she calmly said to William Sr., "Jessica is getting too old to overhear that sort of thing from you."
    _____"What sort'a thing?" he challenged, chin up.
    _____"You know very well. She's your granddaughter, and she is reaching an awkward age, and I don't want her hearing it."
    _____"Yer fuckin' crazy if yeh don't think yer little angel knows all about us."
    _____"No need to broadcast it. Jessica may not have had the benefit of a normal upbringing, but she's going to have a normal life, going forward, if I have any say in the matter."
    _____"Well just listen t'yeh, barely more'n a week on the job an' gettin' all pushy."
    _____"Bill, no more. I'm not asking. Good night."
    _____She turned her back on the man who had given her two rape children, and left him there, spluttering.
    _____Mary, behind them, crossly "tsked" at the counter, but said nothing.


    _____Carol tucked Tommy in, read him some stories until he nodded off, and then she proceeded into Jessica's room. Sure enough, she found Jessica wide awake, reading a teen romance. Jessica tossed the book and sat up, dark hair askew, and looked at her mother with an expression of alert inquiry.
    _____Her mother announced, in a sing-song voice, "I have a present for you!"
    _____Jessica's brow furrowed. A present? She could not imagine the occasion. Her birthday had passed with zero fanfare almost two months ago.
    _____Mom sat down on the bed, handbag in her lap, and said, "Honey, he's given you a little something."
    _____Nonplussed Jessica demanded, "Who has?"
    _____Carol realized, that moment, that her crass and untoward attempts at matchmaking betrayed a preoccupation that Jessica herself likely did not share. For the second time that day, she had to proceed boldly and perhaps recklessly. With considerable misgivings, she wondered whether her efforts on Jessica's behalf would be appreciated.
    _____She forced herself to sound casual and chummy. "Come on, silly. Keep up. I told you that he liked your photograph."
    _____Jessica gasped, "Him, as in your boss?"
    _____"Of course. Who else?"
    _____The daughter blushed scarlet, and looked mortified. "And you told him that I know?"
    _____Now it was Carol's turn to look a bit abashed, "Well, sure I did, honey. I thought he would like to know that you approve of his finding you pretty. You didn't seem to mind when I told you."
    _____"Yeah, Mom, but I didn't know you were going to tell him!"
    _____"You're being silly. Just calm down, and look at what he's given you to show his appreciation. You did, after all, ask me what he looks like, and you sounded like you might be concerned that he's old and fat."
    _____Carol presented her daughter with the color copy of Dr. Spencer on Fortune magazine.
    _____Jessica's jaw dropped. She deftly balanced the sheet of paper on her fingertips and just stared.
    _____Carol let her do that for awhile, smiling enigmatically, and after nearly a minute said, "Told you he's a looker."
    _____Jessica glanced up at her mother and blinked for the first time in a minute. Then her eyes returned to the picture.
    _____Carol wryly said, "Dr. Spencer's no neighborhood schoolboy, is he, honey?"
    _____"Uh uh," Jessica mumbled, still staring. She whispered, almost to herself, "This is not a mockup. This is real. He really is on the cover of Fortune."
    _____Mom airily said, "I watched him make the photocopy. Off the magazine itself, that is. So. Do you think he's handsome?"
    _____Jessica didn't look up. She simply murmured, "He is so beautiful."
    _____Carol gushed, "Turn it around. He wrote you a note."
    _____Jessica rushed, "Well, why didn't you say?" She flipped it around, and read the note. "Mom. He wrote, 'fondly.'"
    _____"Yes, honey; well don't read too much into that. I'm sure he just meant it in the polite sense, like between friends."
    _____"But he doesn't even know me."
    _____"Sure. But now you have his picture, and he has yours, so to him I suppose that it might feel like there's a little bit of a connection."
    _____ Jessica repeated the closing a few times under her breath, as though it were an incantation. She got up, found some scotch tape, and affixed the picture to her headboard, but only on one corner, so she would be able to flip the sheet around and read the note whenever she wanted.
    _____"So, Mom," Jessica asked, staring at the portrait of Dr. Spencer with crossed legs, "he really likes my picture?"
    _____"Yes, he really does, honey," Carol assured her inquisitive daughter.
    _____Jessica scoffed, "Well I don't get that at all. He's old, and I'm just a skinny stick. I have nothing up top at all."
    _____Mom patiently explained, "Yes, you do, first off. But men don't think that way at all, honey. They don't judge you, as you judge yourself. Not when there is an attraction."
    _____"That's my point, Mom. There's nothing for him to be attracted to."
    _____"Oh, come now, sweety. Even you must be aware of how men are noticing you, because I certainly do."
    _____"Dearest Daddy and Grampa Bill and Uncle Mikey have always checked out my butt, but they're just a bunch of pervos."
    _____"Yes, well I don't mean just them. Men at school, like your teachers. And men at the mall. You turn their heads, too, don't you?"
    _____"Well, sure," Jessica conceded, "I guess so."
    _____The mother clapped, "There you go, then. Dr. Spencer might be rich, and handsome, and a genius, but he is no different where it really counts, and there is nothing at all wrong with his finding you attractive. He's a man, too, so you shouldn't be too surprised."
    _____Jessica tore her eyes away from the picture and demanded, "Attractive, as in how? As in, sexy?"
    _____"Well, sure."
    _____"But he is too old for me. Way too old for me."
    _____Carol nodded contemplatively and conceded, "I suppose you're right. He would certainly seem old to you."
    _____"And he doesn't seem old to you?"
    _____"Of course not. He is years younger than I am."
    _____"But you're old, Mom!"
    _____"Mom, I am just saying, I mean, he knows he is too old for me, right?"
    _____"Of course he does. Rationally. Otherwise, you would certainly be right that he's just a twisted old pervert."
    _____Jessica bit her lip and said, somewhat abashed, "That just spilled out last time."
    _____"Honey, there is nothing at all wrong with gentlemen finding you attractive. It's not like they expect anything to come of it."
    _____"But he wants sex. Right?"
    _____This question brought Carol up short. One of the challenges, in having serious discussions with her daughter, was that she was exceptionally bright and quick, and had a way of making connections effortlessly. Carol often had trouble keeping up. She grudgingly nodded and said, "Well, sure. He does want sex. That is what all men want, and is just about all they think about, when it comes right down to it. But I doubt he consciously sees it that way. I am sure all he wants is to get to know you."
    _____Jessica glanced back up at the portrait on her headboard and impulsively giggled at that assertion, and the utter absurdity of the notion.
    _____"It's not a funny thing, honey."
    _____"I know. I am just nervous."
    _____"Well there's nothing to be nervous about."
    _____Jessica thought about this for quite a bit, and her mother waited.
    _____"Mom. He wants to... get to know me?"
    _____Carol shrugged and responded, "Why wouldn't he?"
    _____"Get to know me, how?"
    _____"Oh, I don't know. Maybe he wouldn't mind seeing some more of your pictures."
    _____Jessica creased her forehead so sharply with her concentration that her eyebrows nearly touched. Just what was her mother playing at? Jessica began to suspect that Dr. Spencer meant much more to Mom than she let on. He was more than just her boss, much more. Mom must have been hoping that Dr. Spencer would rescue her, and take her in, and perhaps even propose to her. The notion momentarily stirred resentment in Jessica, and sympathy for Daddy. But Mom and Dad had not gotten along well for years, and they had not shared a sex life to speak of for as long as Jessica had possessed the aptitude to notice its absence, and they obviously did not love each other very much, if at all. Meanwhile, Dr. Spencer was obviously a handsome and affluent gentleman, and he had made the cover of Fortune magazine, which Jessica had perused many a time in the reference section of the library, and he was obviously way out of Mom's league. On top of the huge social disparity between the pair, Mom suffered under the triple encumbrance of a puerile husband and two children. Any reasonable person would have come to the conclusion that Mom would never have stood a chance to land one such as Dr. Spencer, not unless she could entice him, and convince him to accept Tommy and Jessica, herself. That had to be what all this was about. Mom had to be trying to catch Dr. Spencer, and she was using her teenaged daughter as bait. Desperate times, and desperate measures, nothing more. Jessica decided that, for Mom's sake, she would play along. Within reason.
    _____Jessica carefully ventured, "So, you really think this grown man would like to see more of me? In photographs?"
    _____Carol scootched up and hugged her daughter, saying, "He might, honey, he just might."
    _____"And, umm, you would be all right with that?"
    _____Carol sounded irritated by the question. "Why wouldn't I be? Why shouldn't he find you attractive? You're growing up to be a beautiful young lady. And you have quite the head on your shoulders, too."
    _____"Umm, okay, if you say so. But how would he know that?"
    _____"Well he wouldn't, of course, not unless he got to know you better. But nice gentlemen always start out by looking, honey. If they like what they see, then they make a deeper inspection."
    _____Jessica gasped with astonishment, and playfully demanded, "So, you would let him inspect me more deeply, Mom?" But to Jessica's chagrin, her attempt at humor fell flat.
    _____"Well, if he wanted to, and if you didn't mind, why would I have a problem with it?"
    _____"Mom. He is old."
    _____"That makes no difference. If he decided he really liked you, he'd just have a little longer to wait, that's all. Once you were twenty—"
    _____"Twenty! Mom! I will never be twenty!"
    _____"You might not think so. It probably sounds like an eternity to you, but it's really not so much time at all. Anyway, once you're twenty, there would be a nice age difference. He'd still be very young— as men go— and sexy, and handsome. Lots of twenty year old women have so much trouble with men their age that they'd kill for a mature, stable, well-to-do husband. Men take forever to grow up these days. Men in their thirties make much better fathers, because they're more mature and better adjusted."
    _____Jessica slyly accused, "It sounds like you're trying to marry me off."
    _____"Nothing like," her mother insisted defensively. "I'm just explaining why I wouldn't stand in the way if Dr. Spencer were to decide he wanted to get to know you a little better, that's all."
    _____"So, as my mother, you would be okay with giving him some more pictures of me. That's what you're saying."
    _____"Sure, I would. If it's okay with you. But I won't, if you think it's too weird."
    _____"No, I don't!" Jessica rushed, "I don't think it's weird, not even!" She certainly felt utterly incredulous, but she kept that assessment to herself.
    _____"Well good, because I think he really likes you. Maybe one of these days we could borrow Grampa Bill's camera. Colleen and I could help you pose for some new pictures."
    _____Jessica mused, "That would be okay, I suppose. Just as long as you are the one taking the pictures. It would have to be you holding the camera, Mom. I wouldn't feel comfortable any other way. Besides, Dad would probably be furious. If he ever found out.... Well, he would never approve."
    _____Mom said, "Well that's not up to your father, is it? The suitability of Dr. Spencer's attraction should matter only to you, don't you think?"
    _____"I guess so," Jessica said uncertainly.
    _____"Of course it would," the mother confirmed. "You're growing up to be your own person, so if Dr. Spencer decides he likes you, and you like him, it's sort of the same as you choosing to play around with Jimmy down the street, or some other high school boy. Daddy is just going to have to get used to the idea that his sexy little girl is growing up. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, honey. Let's just take this slowly."
    _____A great many adverbs came to Jessica's quick and agile mind, and slowly did not make her list.


    _____That night, for the first time, Jessica Elizabeth Turner replaced the protagonists of her favorite dreams with the brooding, stentorian guise of Dr. Nelson Spencer, Ph.D. It took some doing.
    _____She had to let the objects of her erstwhile infatuations down easy.
    _____Ronald, the beautiful angel whom everyone else in the neighborhood knew only as the Pizza Boy: now, that was hard. He sat on the edge of his Mom's sofa, using an index finger to draw designs in the sweat on his palm. He had tried to hold Jessica's hand, but that just couldn't work. Jessica held her own hands tightly together on her lap. She could not comfort him, could not touch him, because if she did, after all they had shared together, she would just fall apart, and as much as she loved her dearest Dr. Spencer, and as much as she was loved by him, a tiny little remnant of herself clung tenaciously to her lingering fondness for Ronald, and she would never, ever be able to get through this. Not if they touched.
    _____Ronald did not whine. Such inane histrionics were beneath him; Ronald was, after all, still her beautiful angel, and always would be. Yet he did grasp for comprehension.
    _____"Are you absolutely sure about this, Jessica Elizabeth?"
    _____Her heart leapt in response, an automatic thing, whenever he used her first and middle name, a form of endearment that no one else ever practiced.
    _____"You have barely met him. You know so little about him. He might not be right for you, the way I am right for you, the way we are so right for each other."
    _____Jessica put a great deal of effort into her response. For Ronald. He deserved her best effort. They had not loved each other for long, but he had been true. "Dear Ronald, I know how it must seem to you, and I am so sorry this hurts you. I had promised I would never cause you pain, and it hurts me so badly, to break that promise. But look, Ronald, just please look," she entreated him imploringly, as she took from her book bag a four hundred page special edition of Fortune magazine, a special tribute to the accomplishments and derring-do of the refined young gentleman on the cover, which she held out for Ronald, so that he would understand, and perhaps come to terms with the power of the calling that compelled Jessica to hurt him now. "See, Ronald? This is Dr. Nelson Spencer, Ph.D. He is a doctor, and everything, and well, just look how gorgeous and monolithic he is. And he has chosen me. What can I do? What choice have I, Ronald? I have to be with him."
    _____He stopped doodling on his palm, and looked up at her, and murmured, "I understand, dearest. I love you, and I will always love you, but I understand, and I will not stand in the way. I just hope that he will make you happy."
    _____Jessica felt a single traitorous tear roll down her cheek and refused to wipe it. "I hope so, too, Ronald. I am so sorry. But ultimately I think that this will be better for both of us. Better for me, to serve my Dr. Spencer, and better for you, knowing you had been so gracious and kind, as to let me abandon you for such a magnificent, formidable gentleman."
    _____His voice quaked for the first time, but he did not cry, not Ronald, never that. "I hope you are right, my love."
    _____Then, somehow, Jessica crossed into her own living room. Though she could exercise an impressive degree of manipulation over her dreams, the transitions remained tenaciously tricky, and her dreams were subject to the same temporal anomalies as anyone else's, but how she found herself in her own living room was irrelevant, because now she had to explain to Mother and Father why she had to go away with the man who sat ramrod straight on the edge of the sofa and held her hand at arm's length.
    _____Father reasoned with her. Only in her dreams could this be possible. First, her dream-Father always addressed her with her real name, which never happened in waking life. Second, her real-life Daddy did not reason. He simply wandered in a Pavlovian stupor from one petty attraction to the next, and increasingly he'd been seeing his own daughter as one of those attractions. The whole raison d'être for this dream was its utility for her escapist fantasies, yet in the dream itself, this conversation would be even harder than the ordeal she had inflicted upon poor Ronald.
    _____Father reasoned, impossibly, with the well-formed articulation of a Midwestern newscaster, "You are so young, Jessica, and you have your whole life ahead of you."
    _____"I know, Dad. But Dr. Spencer came for me, and he chose me, so he is my life now. We are intertwined." She gripped Dr. Spencer's huge hand tightly in her little fingers, squeezing, with the force of an incantation, giving her deepest wishes the solidarity of truth.
    _____Mother said, "You are so beautiful and intelligent, Jessica. You will have many suitors. How can you be sure that this gentleman is the right one, the best one, for you?"
    _____At this point Jessica wished Dr. Spencer could speak on her behalf, but she had never heard his voice. She could control her dreams to a great extent, an intrinsic talent she'd been born with, and in her limited experience a unique talent, since no one else in her circle of family and friends had ever reported doing it, but the talent had limits: her palette was limited to her own experiences. She grudgingly conceded that she would have to do the talking.
    _____"Dr. Nelson Spencer, Ph.D. is my soul mate. We knew, the moment we met. I think he even knew of our rightness for each other beforehand. That is why he sought me out. We are perfect for each other, and we are in love, and we simply have to spend our lives together."
    _____Father looked down at the six hundred page special worldwide edition of Fortune, the tribute to Dr. Spencer's accomplishments, which lay upon the ottoman between them (in reality this was Grampa Bill's ottoman, and for that matter, Grampa Bill's sofa, but for some reason it had been brought down here to their flat), and he said, "I can certainly see how you are so powerfully drawn to this gentleman. The reciprocity of the attraction does not surprise me in the least (Daddy in waking life never used words such as reciprocity), because you are the most beautiful and intelligent young lady on earth. Dear, I think you can trust both your intelligence and your feelings on the matter. Things may or may not work out for you; but that is just the way life is. All the same, it appears it is time for me to concede that my little girl has grown up. Therefore, much as I love you and wish I could keep you forever, I reluctantly yet heartily give my consent for the two of you to marry."
    _____The scene did not change that much, apart from the subsequent disappearance of her parents; she simply found herself alone with her dearest Dr. Nelson Spencer, and he took her in his powerful arms, and they kissed. At this point she made due with the paltry basis of experience at her disposal. Regrettably, Jessica had only been kissed once, and by Jimmy, an awful kisser. Consequently, the Dr. Spencer of her dreams kissed like an eel, just like Jimmy.
    _____Jessica definitely needed better raw material.
    _____All the same, she now had a new all-time-favorite dream, and she looked forward to the prospect of improving it.
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  18. #18
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. e

    _____That same night, Dr. Nelson Spencer, Ph.D. skipped dinner, shucked off his clothes, and went to bed early, for the first time in memory. He attempted to masturbate to his memory of Jessica's photograph, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. He needed to be able to treat her as an object, a well nigh impossible task. Already, he knew too much about the girl, and wanted to know more. That yearning to know more about her, to transcend the object, to personify her, repeatedly impeded him from reaching the release that he craved.
    _____The difficulties compounded when the phone at his bedside beeped with an incoming text message from Laura Ableton.
    _____"Still waiting. Still late. Im gonna tell the rents u did it."
    _____Well, as far as masturbation went, things progressed more easily now. He knew quite a bit about Laura, yet had no difficulty whatsoever with viewing her as a sex object, and with ease he could layer atop his representation of the young woman any deviant fantasy he desired, as effortlessly as hanging cut-out clothes on a paper doll.
    _____He snatched up the phone and replied, via text, "Cudnt help it. u r 2 sxy, couldnt resist. BTW, how did u get my email?"
    _____A minute later, "Saw it in ur office. Im pregs & Im telling."
    _____"Relax. That was 3 weeks ago. U could not have been ovulating. No way you're pregnant. You're only late. & u liked it, deep down inside."
    _____"U hurt me deep down inside." she retorted. "Im preggers because of u. Ur a raping pig and Im never coming over again."
    _____"Well thats 2 bad," he texted. He clenched his eyes and tried to disperse the all too poignant memory of Laura, bent back over his desk that time three weeks ago. He could have had a reprise with Stan's precious granddaughter, that very afternoon, but he had not felt a shred of desire. He had lost patience with her feigned ambivalence and had hustled her out to a cab. Now he tried to visualize Jessica Turner. For the thousandth time, he wondered about her age and suitability.
    _____It took him a long time to reply.
    _____Laura wrote, "???"
    _____He swore and replied, "I really enjoyed your visit today, and I'll regret having 2 tell your grandpa u wont see me anymore."
    _____Laura might have gone on all night, for all he knew, but he had to concentrate, so he disabled his phone. He contemplated Carol Turner's daughter, and the hold that the captivating stranger had on him already. Mad, frenzied plots ran through his head. He considered appealing to Dad to invite the children of employees to the holiday Christmas party. He imagined Carol Turner staying on in her role as his assistant for an unprecedented full year, so that Jessica could attend the company's summer barbecue. How could he have driven himself to this state by a girl, a kid, sixteen years old, or seventeen at best? A kid, and yet he had not felt a compulsion for anyone this strongly since his infamous college crush.
    _____With that fateful recollection, his ability to visualize Jessica Turner dissipated with resounding finality.
    _____He angrily snapped his eyes open, rolled over toward the bedside table, and gazed bitterly at an old photograph of a college girl. His first and only real love. "Wendy, you fucking cunt," he muttered, and snatched up the photograph.
    _____He threw on a bathrobe. Bounded down the stairs, photograph in hand. Worked for a bit in the kitchen; sliced some vegetables and dumped them into a skillet to simmer with olive oil. He stalked into the formal room, which he never used, and ripped, from the mantle, the one remaining picture of Gwendolyn Meredith Rosenthal. He leapt back up the stairs, two at a time, and tossed the photographs into the anteroom fireplace. He tossed kindling and larger oak logs on top of the portraits, cranked the flue wide open, and lit the pyre. He used a bellows to work the conflagration up to a temperature that would melt the glass of the frames. Then he rummaged in the back of his bedroom closet, emerged with a shoebox full of letters, and these, too, he dumped into the fire. Bye-bye, Wendy Rosenthal. He declared to himself that he should complete this errand come what may, and now he went from room to room, tearing and ripping every trace of Gwendolyn from his rooms and his life. He tore notes out of the endpapers of books. He found small gifts that he had received, the trivial keepsakes that are meaningless to anyone outside of the couple in question, the types of virtually worthless things that are exchanged between essentially penniless students. Bookmarks, pens, rocks taken from the settings of shared picnics, the CD's of mutually admired pop bands, yellowed receipts from mornings in coffee shops. Every time he crossed the kitchen, he stirred the vegetables. It didn't take long at all, no more than fifteen minutes, to entirely erase a five year obsession. He would regret this purge later. Tomorrow, or next week, he would tear the basement apart, go into all his old files, comb through thousands of sheets of yellowed paper, in search of one remaining letter or even a jotted note in Wendy's hand. The violently expurgated absence of symbology would hurt, but he tried not to dwell on that, as he tried not to dwell on the catalyst that had driven him to this insane act: a school-aged girl who could not possibly have passed for seventeen. In a mere fifteen minutes, without ever quite understanding what had triggered it, or why, he cleared the decks for the next inevitable heartbreak. For Laura Ableton, or for the high school aged daughter of his new secretary? He could not have known, and at that point the answer would not have made a difference. Perhaps, at this early stage, even Dr. Nelson Spencer could not have answered that one. He took his dinner late, while reading an inconsequential, trashy novel called Nascent, penned by some aesexual pseudonym. The clatter of his fork on the plate echoed loudly in the cavernous room whenever he set it down. He ate alone, as always. Dr. Nelson Spencer finished the novel and returned to bed at around one in the morning. He tried to dream, but dreams would not come. He eventually fell into a fitful semblance of sleep, his only coherent thought being his self-loathing.
    More to come.
    Last edited by clarise; 02-11-2011 at 09:44 PM.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  19. #19
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. f

    _____Tuesday came and went without a recurrence of the topic that had become Carol Turner's sole obsession. Dr. Spencer said not a single word to Carol all morning.
    _____At nine o'clock he received a tall, somber gentleman named Maxwell Barsamian Westford, did not bother to introduce him, and not once prevailed upon Carol to take dictation. The two men conversed in a soft huddle at Dr. Spencer's desk all morning, and worked right through lunch. They talked for the most part about tile, for some reason that escaped Carol entirely— well, not tile as such, but tilings, which Carol assumed to mean essentially the same thing. Dr. Spencer sounded as though he were convinced that tilings, whatever that meant, were mature, and worthy of investment. Max disagreed, and spent all morning urging Dr. Spencer to strike tilings from the agenda of the upcoming Board meeting.
    _____Not a word of it meant sense to Carol, and she silently thanked God that the men had not enjoined her to take notes. The terminology that they used went so far over her head that she found herself unable to silently repeat most of the words, much less spell them. Carol had never once fathomed the underlying complexity of something as mundane and ordinary as tile, but on reflection she conceded that she had never before considered its manufacture.
    _____Over the course of the morning, Carol gradually inferred that Max had to have been some kind of lawyer. Apart from that inconsequential fragment of comprehension, she gleaned nothing whatsoever, and ruefully reflected that after having worked at Dymetrix Corporation for going on two weeks, she now had less understanding of what the company did, than when she had started.


    _____Shortly after Max departed, sometime early in the afternoon, the receptionist announced that a gentleman named Shawn was on his way up, and Dr. Spencer made an audible sigh. Carol looked at him, and he simply remarked, "You'll see. Could you please do me a favor: sit nearby, and pretend to take notes?"
    _____A wry smile teased Carol's lips, and she asked, for confirmation, "Just pretend?"
    _____"Well... make it look authentic, of course."
    _____"Of course."
    _____Five minutes later there was a sharp knock on the door, and a giant, handsome, blond gentleman came in. Carol looked up at the man with an expression of awe, because the guest stood even taller and more amply proportioned than six-foot-eight Dr. Spencer.
    _____The visitor shook hands with his host, and then he turned and brashly introduced himself to Carol as Mr. Christiensen. "Call me Shawn," the Nordic giant insisted, and said no more, being apparently disinterested in her name. The men talked business among themselves, as though Carol, jotting notes all the while, were not even there. The blond thoroughly ignored Carol thenceforth, and while she did not think of herself as vain, nor was she accustomed to being so thoroughly ignored by the opposite sex.
    _____While the meeting that morning with Max had left Carol at a loss for comprehension, she had no trouble maintaining the charade of taking notes on the present occasion. Not once did Dr. Spencer and Shawn discuss tilings. Carol rapidly surmised that Shawn represented a precious metals wholesale firm that was petitioning for a larger share of Dymetrix Corporation's business. Dr. Spencer rattled off a half dozen per-gram list prices that would have to come down by various increments measured in tenths of a percent, and he advised Shawn to pass on the need for larger standing inventories and faster delivery cycles.
    _____At first, Carol had felt maligned. By the end of the meeting, she felt neglected. The lingering sensation of benign rejection must have been obvious on her face, because Dr. Spencer laughed gently at her expense as soon as the door closed. He said, "The way all the men undress you with your eyes, Mrs. Turner, Shawn's utter indifference must have been a difficult hit."
    _____Carol muttered, "Not even," but thought to herself that he had read her mind flawlessly.
    _____He knew it, too. He consoled, "Try not to take the rejection too hard. Shawn would not have taken a shine to you if you were the last woman on earth."
    _____Her eyes widened, and he laughed at her expression.
    _____"Yes, Mrs. Turner," he said, with a wink, "Shawn is much more aroused by the likes of me. After all, our Sales Department does not only indulge the caprices of furniture girls."
    _____He enjoyed her expression of astonishment and muttered, "If it is any consolation, your antipathy toward the man offends me not in the least. I detest him, myself."
    _____"Because he is gay?"
    _____Nelson smirked and said, "Goodness knows his sexuality has been his sole preoccupation since puberty, but I could care less about his motivations for arousal. No. I have more substantive reasons for my detestation than his sexual orientation."
    _____He returned to his computer, and checked email, without elaborating on the comment. Several minutes passed before he looked up and realized that Carol had been watching him and waiting.
    _____Nelson sighed, pressed his fingers together in an attitude of prayer, and explained, "My friend Shawn Christiensen represents a spurious layer. He has come to believe that we exist to give him a living. He adds nothing of value to our product. He is one of the reasons why we cannot effectively compete."
    _____Carol stammered, "I gather Mr. Christiensen is a gold dealer."
    _____"A precious metals dealer, yes."
    _____"Sir— Dr. Spencer— we're a machine shop. We make things with metal."
    _____"Yes. We do."
    _____"Then— forgive me. I don't understand."
    _____"Shawn and the company that he represents are four irrelevant steps removed from the mines from whence the metals come, Mrs. Turner."
    _____Carol still did not understand. She had no hope of understanding. So she tried to close the discussion with a bit of irreverent humor by saying, "Well, maybe Dymetrix Corporation should just buy a few mines."
    _____She returned to her work table, and sorted through her papers.
    _____For the next half hour, Dr. Spencer did nothing but stare at her back.
    _____Then he picked up the phone. Carol heard him ask for the lawyer named Max. She heard Dr. Spencer say, "We are in agreement. Please strike the molecular tilings research initiative from the Board meeting agenda." In response to a query that Carol could not hear, Dr. Spencer explained, "I am having difficulty making myself understood. I have a lot of work to do on my delivery, before my father and grandfathers hear a word."


    _____At five o'clock, as Carol prepared to leave, she turned to him and waited to get his attention. He pulled his eyes off his computer monitor, rubbed them, and looked up at her.
    _____"I am sorry that I have irritated you today."
    _____He gave her a wan smile and said, "You have not. I did not intend on giving you that impression. This is just the way I am. The effusive adulation of outfits such as Fortune notwithstanding, I am not all that likable a person, and there is nothing much to admire."
    _____She responded with a defiant snort and retorted, "You have one more admirer today than you had yesterday."
    _____His brow creased.
    _____"She thanks you for the picture, and the note," Carol explained.
    _____Dr. Spencer heard the assertion, and struggled to maintain his composure. All night he had agonized over his memories of the previous day, and over the question of whether any of it— and how much— had been real. Now he knew that he had really given a picture of himself, with a note of greeting, to the teenaged daughter of his secretary.
    _____She clearly discerned his discomfort, and nearly relented, but she knew all too well the rarity of opportunities such as this, and desperation emboldened her. Driven by her compulsion, she sank her claws just a little bit deeper. "Jessica is pleased that you fancy her back-to-school portrait."
    _____He went pale and whispered, "She is?"
    _____"She has told me as much, Sir. After all," Carol hurriedly said, defensively, "my daughter and I have a very close relationship, and she shares everything with me, in complete confidence. Anyway, I know for a fact that she returns the sentiment."
    _____He felt like his throat had blocked up. He struggled to swallow, took a deep breath, and cautiously asked, "You do? What did she say to you?"
    _____"She asked me, repeatedly, whether you found her attractive, sir. The question means a lot to her."
    _____That last comment touched a nerve. "Just how much does it mean?"
    _____"Jessica taped the copy of the magazine cover to her headboard," the mother brightly explained. "I think she really likes you. She is naturally skeptical that you could really be interested in her— physically, that is. She says she's just a stick and no mature gentleman could find her attractive."
    _____"That is... sweet," he said.
    _____Carol grimaced and pleaded, "Sir, please don't mock."
    _____"I did not mean to mock. She is just... so young."
    _____"Sir, you have to understand that Jessica is very mature for her age, and exceptionally bright. And while she dabbles with boys her own age, purely for sake of socialization, she has always been more comfortable with adults. Her only regret now is that you do not have a more recent picture of her, and she has expressed interest in doing something about that."
    _____His pulse raced at the revelation that the back-to-school portrait was outdated. By how long? Maybe it was a year old, or several years old.
    _____"What, specifically, would she do about the picture?"
    _____Carol replied with a blush, "Well, Jessica would like to pose for a new portrait. If, that is, a new portrait for the office would interest you."
    _____Nelson heard himself say, "Certainly, Mrs. Turner, you are at liberty to decorate your work area as you see fit."
    _____Carol shut her eyes. Visions of Vanessa Curtis and Laura Ableton, swathed in red, clouded her sight. She composed herself, opened her eyes, and said, "Yes, sir. But I am asking, would a redecoration of my work area interest you?"
    _____He mused for awhile without attempting a reply. Warning bells rang in his head. The whole notion struck him as depraved, and if that was how he saw it, how would his parents, or society, or the police see it? The answer, of course, would depend on Jessica's age, which even now he could neither ascertain nor even infer. He recognized the peril inherent in betraying to this woman that he harbored fantasies of actually meeting the girl. Yet his desires were impossible to achieve, and in any event Mrs. Turner had not offered him a means of attaining them. She had offered him a new portrait of Jessica, and nothing more. And now she demanded to know whether a new picture of Jessica would interest him, as though there could have been any question.
    _____"It might," he barely breathed.
    _____She nodded briskly and wished him good evening.
    _____He watched her go, watched the door close, and croaked to the air that trembled in her wake, "Well, good. I look forward to seeing the results."


    _____The office lurched on its axis with enough severity to put Dr. Nelson Spencer flat on his back. He gripped his desk for dear life.
    _____In his misshapen imagination, Carol Turner had not yet left. She lingered to ask him how Jessica should pose. She framed her query in terms of what would interest him. She urged him to be forthright about his desires.
    _____"I could certainly do my best to compose Jessica elegantly for the portrait, sir. But I think I know men, and sometimes less is more."
    _____"Less what, Mrs. Turner?"
    _____"Less clothes, of course. Now, don't misunderstand. I am not suggesting that I would pose my own daughter in soft pornographic shots. But certainly there would be no harm, dressing her in no less than she would wear to the beach, for all of John Q. Public to see. Not, that is, if she would consent to it. And not if the notion of Jessica posing in a bikini, or in her underwear, for that matter, would interest you."
    _____"It might," he barely breathed to the empty room, as he stared in terror at his rapidly oncoming madness.
    _____He watched himself open his bottom desk drawer; watched himself pluck a sheaf of bills from a petty cash box; watched himself hand more than a hundred dollars to Carol; heard himself urge her to buy tasteful yet enticing articles of clothing for Jessica's new portrait.
    _____He heard Carol's half-hearted admonishment that the money was not necessary; heard her thanks, and watched her go, again. The door closed, again. "I look forward to seeing the results," he said, again.


    _____Dr. Nelson Spencer burst from his office, raced for the elevators, sprinted through the first floor lobby, and did not stop until he hit the sidewalk, took in a breath of brisk early autumn air, and struggled to clear his head. He sincerely hoped that his recollections were fantasy, and nothing more.
    _____He had not really expressed interest in receiving pictures of a teenager in her underwear, had he? Could he really have done that? He could no longer clearly recall. Madness, utter madness.
    _____He half-ran out to the park, nearly stumbled into a coffee kiosk, bought a large unsweetened latté, and guzzled it down, hoping with futility that the burn in his throat would wake him up more effectively than the autumn air. He took a long walk, all the way around the Public Gardens, hoping against hope that he had imagined everything, all the way back to running the magazine cover through the photocopier on the previous day.
    _____By the time he returned to the office, Carol Turner had already gone. For just a few moments, he could convince himself that he had only imagined handing Carol two hundred dollars in cash, with instructions to pose her daughter enticingly. Maybe, he could almost convince himself, Carol hadn't even shown up for work that day. Perhaps she had called in sick. But then he opened his bottom desk drawer, hauled out the petty cash box, and dumped its contents upon his desk. Coins rolled across the blotter in every direction, and rang shrilly upon the floor like raucous bells. No paper; nothing but spare change. At least some of it had been real, and he had no way of knowing how much. But even the mere absence of bills in the cash box appalled him. He fell back into his chair and hung his head in his hands.
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  20. #20
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. g

    _____That afternoon, Carol arrived home at around four-thirty, and she knew, from the moment she opened the door, that she had come home to trouble. Tommy stared at the television. Jessica stood in a corner, and wore nothing but an old rugby shirt and candystripe panties that had been pulled down to her knees to display a rosy bottom.
    _____Billy had done a... thorough... job on her. Carol could see long vicious beltmarks that curled right down between her thighs. He must have pinioned her legs and caught her between, where it hurt most. Carol seethed. Jessica was definitely getting too old for such treatment. Billy took too much satisfaction in it, and Jessica was old enough to know it. If he did not take care, she would grow up to hate him with her last dying breath. In fact, Carol reflected, it might even have been too late to avoid that.
    _____Tommy barely acknowledged Carol's entrance, so engrossed was he in the television show, but Jessica sniffled theatrically to get her mother's attention.
    _____"Jessica, honey, where's your father?"
    _____"Upstairs." A one word reply. More than Carol had expected.
    _____Tommy called out, "Grammy's ordering pizza."
    _____Christ, Carol thought. A school night, and the in-laws were ordering pizza. All the kids would be kept up late. There could be only one reason: Jessica's chastisement had already become an occasion worthy of commemoration, and her humiliation would continue through dinner. Billy must not have gone to work. His foreman must have called to tell him to stay home, which was why he had been around to lay into Jessica. And now, whatever had happened, Billy would be upstairs, that very moment, retelling the story and embellishing upon it.
    _____Well, Carol thought, it was just as well. She had resigned herself to waiting until Friday, or even Saturday, to pose Jessica for her new portrait. But tonight might as well be the night, since everyone would be up late anyway.
    _____Carol asked her daughter, who still had not so much as glanced from the converging walls of the corner, "What happened to you?"
    _____Jessica did not answer, but Tommy, without peeling his eyes from the television, reported, "Dad kicked Jimmy's ass, and threw him out, and he kicked Jessi's ass, too."
    _____Carol thought of a rebuke for her six year old son's language, but she forced herself to stay on topic. With a quiet, gentle voice, she asked, "Why did he spank you, honey?" Carol had been addressing Jessica, and shot a warning stare at Tommy, but since he hadn't even turned around, it had no effect.
    _____Tommy answered, still watching the show, "He caught slutty Jessi giving Jimmy a blowjob."
    _____Jessica lashed at her brother, "Shut up, you incorrigible little brat! He did not!"
    _____Tommy yelled, "Did, too!"
    _____Carol yelled, "Tommy, go upstairs; visit Gramma Mary, and wait for dinner."
    _____"But my show's not over!"
    _____Tommy cursed, using words far too advanced for a six year old, slammed the parlor door, and stomped upstairs without turning off the television. Carol ground her teeth. How could she admonish the boy for inheriting his porcine father's language? And besides, Carol really couldn't be bothered. Carol had only so much spare energy, and these days she devoted just about all of it to Jessica.
    _____The girl turned now for the first time, and tears rolled down her cheeks. "I wasn't even, Mom!" she protested. "That is like, so grotesque. I wouldn't even. Not for Jimmy, not for anybody. Dad put that filth in Tommy's head."
    _____But Jessica's mother did not look angry. She just patted one of Jessica's cheeks, dabbed a tear in the process, and said, "Never mind your goofy brother, repeating what he hears in schoolyards. Tommy doesn't even know what a blowjob is."
    _____Jessica, agonized, cried, "But Dad, he thought— and he spanked me in front of Jimmy with my panties down— and Tommy watching from the door— and Dad called me a slut— and I tried to tell him I'm not even!"
    _____Jessica's mother consoled, hugging her, "Honey, pay no attention to your father. He doesn't know what a blowjob is, either, believe me."
    _____Jessica giggled at that, in spite of herself. She looked up the ceiling and said, "He's up there telling Grampa Bill and Uncle Mikey, and he says my punishment's not over; it's just a warm-up."
    _____Carol winked and said, "Don't worry about that. I'll talk to him. Here, come into your room. I've got something to cheer you up." Jessica followed her Mom into her bedroom and sat against the headboard, right beside the picture of Dr. Spencer.
    _____Carol sardonically observed, "I'm surprised your father didn't tear that down."
    _____Jessica griped, "He was so mad about Jimmy that I don't think he even noticed."
    _____The mother, curious, asked, "Well if you really weren't giving Jimmy a blowjob, what was your dad so mad about?"
    _____"We weren't even doing that, Mom. Nowhere close. We were just undressing each other, and maybe it looked like it from the door. I don't know. But my clothes weren't even all off yet, and Jimmy had his thingy out and it was touching my shoulder, that's all. Jimmy's kind of pushy that way. And anyway, Daddy went berserk and called me a slut and off came his belt, with Jimmy watching and everything."
    _____"Did he spank Jimmy, too?"
    _____"Not even, Mom. I think he might have hit Jimmy once by accident, while he was hauling off on me."
    _____"I'll talk to your Dad. Don't worry, no more spankings tonight. But look at what I have for you! You can forget all about little Jimmy and his thingy, honey."
    _____Jessica's eyes brightened, and she asked why.
    _____Her mother said, "You know how we were talking last night about maybe doing some posing for a new portrait?"
    _____Jessica nodded expectantly.
    _____"Well, as a matter of fact, he told me today that you are growing up to be a beautiful young lady."
    _____"Come on!"
    _____"Cross my heart. He did. And so, I kind of mentioned to him that you might want to pose for some new pictures, just for him."
    _____Carol smirked at her daughter.
    _____"How could you do that?"
    _____"Well, let's just say that nudging things along beats waiting for hell to freeze over."
    _____Jessica rolled her eyes and muttered to herself.
    _____Mom soldiered on, "And it just so happens that he warmed to the idea instantly."
    _____"And he liked the idea so much, that he's bought you some presents today."
    _____Jessica gaped in speechless astonishment as Mom pulled two boxes out of her big handbag.
    _____Jessica bounced up and down on the mattress with her excitement, the ache of the recent belt spanking forgotten. "Are those really for me?"
    _____"All for you, and only for you."
    _____"What's the occasion?"
    _____"I think the occasion will be obvious when you open them."
    _____Jesscia's eyes reduced to slits, and she demanded, "And they're from him?"
    _____Carol did not respond directly to the question, but suggestively remarked, "I really think you have a secret admirer, honey."
    _____Jessica could barely control the pounding of her heart. "Can I open them?"
    _____Mom said, "Of course you can open them, silly. Here. This one first."
    _____Jessica snidely gathered, "You've already seen them, haven't you?"
    _____"Of course I have, honey. I helped wrap them. Most men need help with that sort of thing."
    _____Jessica opened the first box and gaped. The box contained underwear. On one side, an assortment of white, pink and lavender panties. On the other, six matching bras, and silk coverups with spaghetti straps.
    _____She had been begging for bras all year— the chafing against her shirts had been awful— but Dearest Father would not even listen to the notion.
    _____She stared and murmured, "These are exactly my size."
    _____Carol did not answer.
    _____"Mom, how would he know my sizes?"
    _____"He's seen two pictures of you."
    _____"Well, he has."
    _____"Pictures that could be years old, for all he knows. Come on, Mom."
    _____"Okay, okay. I helped him out a bit with sizes."
    _____Jessica shrewdly asked, "And this is okay with you? Your boss, giving me gift-wrapped underwear?"
    _____"If it weren't okay with me, I would have dumped them in the gutter on the way home."
    _____"So you are okay with this."
    _____"Honey, you think he's handsome, don't you?"
    _____Jessica glanced up at her headboard and shrugged. Then she asked, "So, like what? I get to keep these, if I model them for him?"
    _____Carol sighed, taken aback, as always, by Jessica's quick alacrity. "They are gifts, honey. As for modeling them, that would be entirely up to you."
    _____Jessica pursed her lips and cast a wary eye at her mother.
    _____"Really, sweety. I strongly suspect he doesn't care what you wear for this new picture, should you decide to go through with it."
    _____"This is weird, Mom. That is all I am saying."
    _____"Men present gifts to women, dear. To break the ice. There is nothing weird about this, nothing whatsoever."
    _____"Mom, girls go steady with guys for years and don't get underwear. This guy doesn't even know me."
    _____"Dr. Spencer is not some immature high school boy, sweety."
    _____That was entirely Jessica's point, she thought to herself, but rather than express it, she silently reflected for a few moments on her conviction that her mother couldn't possibly be this dense. Her mind scrambled to concoct a plausible explanation for her mother's behavior.
    _____To buy time, Jessica lifted a bra on her index finger and said, "Dad won't let me have these. No way will he ever let me go to school in these."
    _____Her mother crossly said, "Your Dad is going to have to get used to the fact that his little baby girl is growing up, and has breasts."
    _____"Not much, she doesn't."
    _____"Don't even start, Jessica."
    _____"Bugbites and nothing more," Jessica said dismissively. "Frankly I'm surprised this Dr. Spencer even bothered."
    _____"Jessica! These presents are his way of complimenting your body. It's not a joke. If you try to turn it into one, you'll only discourage him."
    _____"Discourage him from what?"
    _____Mom airily replied, "That would be up to him. I imagine you'd be discouraging him from treating you like a mature, sexy young woman, the sort of woman he'd like to take on a date."
    _____"And you say I have an imagination. Okay. Mom, all kidding aside: getting bras and panties by a strange man— those are really, umm—"
    _____"Intimate?" her mother helpfully asked.
    _____"Well, yeah," Jessica agreed, although she had wanted to use 'twisted.' "Mom, how do you feel about that? Honestly. I mean, he works for you, and I'm your daughter. You really don't think this is kind of weird?"
    _____Carol took a deep breath and said, "Dr. Spencer is a normal adult man with normal adult needs. Otherwise I suppose I would have a big problem with it. But there is obviously some sort of mature attraction that he is feeling, and who am I to tell him it's wrong? At any rate I have no problem with his giving you gifts— not even if they are a little bit sexy. That's his way of telling you he really wants to get to know you better, in a romantic way."
    _____Jessica scoffed at the sheer improbability that a man such as Dr. Spencer would ever want to know one such as herself. "Well, no matter. One thing is for certain: Dad's going to go berserk."
    _____"I've already told you not to worry about him. I'm going to give him a stern talking to after dinner and tell him that what you do in the privacy of your own bedroom with your boyfriends is your business, and not his."
    _____Jessica, with wide eyes, muttered, "You say that, and he'll give you a whipping, Mom."
    _____But Jessica's mother laughed, "I'd love to see him try. And besides, I'll just ask your Grampa Bill for his opinion on whether you're old enough for dating. That ought to put your Dear Daddy in his place real quick."
    _____Jessica drolly informed, "Grampa Bill told me I was ready for loving by a man four years ago."
    _____Carol darkly muttered, "I can well believe it. Okay, want your second present?"
    _____Jessica reached for it with some trepidation. After having been presented with the first, Jessica rightly dreaded whatever her mother had held in reserve for the finale.
    _____She opened the box, lifted the pale coral tissue paper, sat back, and began to bite her nails.
    _____"It's nothing to be nervous about."
    _____"Jessica, this is nothing. Normal courting between mature people, and nothing more."
    _____Jessica held up a lacy thong panty, looked through the pinky-sized holes at her mother, and just gaped. She shook her head and said, "He knows how old I am. Right?"
    _____"That hasn't come up."
    _____"Yeah. Don't ask, don't tell. But he knows I can't sit with him at a cocktail bar. He would know that much from my back-to-school picture, and he is purportedly no fool, this evidence to the contrary. Mom, this is nuts."
    _____"You like him. He likes you."
    _____Jessica pressed her fingers to her temples and shook her head. She tried a different tack. "Daddy said he'll never let me wear thongs under his roof, Mom. He'll never let me wear these."
    _____"Do you want to?" her mother asked, simply.
    _____"Well, yeah! I mean, I suppose. I guess I would. For Dr. Spencer, I mean. As if."
    _____Carol said, "It's settled, then. Those thong panties are Dr. Spencer's special gift to you, and if you want to wear them for him, that's that, and it's final. In fact, how would you feel about posing in your new panties for some new portraits?"
    _____Jessica clearly recalled having been told, not five minutes ago, that she would not have to pose in these tawdry gifts. Yet here stood the proposition, duly submitted. There had to be a reason for it. Mom had to be close to sinking her hooks into Dr. Nelson Spencer, Ph.D. This would help, somehow.
    _____She carefully assented, "I could do that. Pose in this... underwear. Just as long as no one sees but you and Colleen."
    _____"Okay, then. We can do that after dinner."
    _____Jessica's countenance darkened, and she frantically asked, "What? Tonight?"
    _____"Good a time as any."
    _____"Oh, no it's not. Mom, Dad just thrashed me with my panties down. No way are you snapping me in my underwear, for this boss of yours or anyone else."
    _____"Why ever not?
    _____"Mom! He used his belt. My bum's the color of cooked lobster."
    _____Carol shrewdly said, "You'll be posing for a portrait, not a centerfold. Don't worry. It will never show."
    _____Before Jessica could protest further, Carol said, "Okay then, let's go up for pizza. And then we'll come back with Colleen and take some new pictures for Dr. Spencer."
    _____Jessica sighed, wriggled into a pair of shorts, and followed her mother upstairs.

    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  21. #21
    Precious princess
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. h

    _____They walked in on a big party— not only Gramma Mary and Grampa Bill, but also Uncle Mikey and Aunty Penny, with Colleen and her bratty younger siblings.
    _____Additionally, Uncle Phil and Aunty Claire had come over from down the street, a rare occurrence for a weekday, although they always showed up on Fridays and Saturdays. Uncle Phil was a tough, tattooed hambone with a paunch belly, and Aunt Claire was a mousey little stick of a thing who blended in beside him and would only look at her feet. They had four shifty kids. The oldest was Phil Jr., an overweight fifteen year old jerk who bullied kids half his size and whose pants were always stained with every conceivable bodily fluid. Then there was a thirteen year old boy named Paulie, who never talked, and quite possibly couldn't. Despite his apparent muteness and functional illiteracy, he had a born talent for the Playstation, and would contend against Tommy from dinner through bedtime. Then Uncle Phil and Aunty Claire had two girls, nine and seven, who were murine little creatures like their mum and would spend the evening catatonic in front of one of the televisions.
    _____Both Jessica and Colleen detested and distrusted Phil Jr., and wanted nothing to do with Paulie, either. For that matter, the boys were scorned by the rest of the kids in the neighborhood as well. But they were family, and they always came over for pizza, and no one could stop them, so that was that.
    _____Jessica entered the room and immediately wanted to blend into invisibility behind her mother, with all the eyes upon her. Evidently they had heard every gripping detail of her Dearest Daddy's accounting of events.
    _____She must have appeared quite a sight, hiding behind her mother. Gramma Mary looked down her nose with reproof as Jessica passed. Jessica's Aunty Penny and Aunty Claire glared shrewdly. Colleen, who wore a sexy halter and tight tap shorts, gave Jessica a wink, which Jessica did not dare return.
    _____That left the adolescent and adult males, from the thirteen year old wanker, Paulie, on up to Jessica's father, Uncle Mike, Uncle Phil, and Grampa William Sr., all of whom ran their eyes up and down her body, from her bare feet, up her legs, to her tiny waist, to her skinny boyish torso, to her scarlet cheeks, and then back down, as though they were inspecting freshly butchered pork.
    _____Jessica's own Daddy, the inimitable Billy Jr., darkly accused, "Yeh didn't hear too good, girly. No pizza for you I said, an' the next time I saw yeh I'd finish yer punishment, so I guess yeh want me t'take my belt off right here at the kitchen table in front of yer uncles an' cousins, am I right?"
    _____Carol airily said, "Oh, Billy, give it a rest. Of course she's not going to miss dinner."
    _____Billy Jr. spat on his own parents' floor, drawing Gramma Mary's ire, and he said, "Don't undermine my authority, woman, or you'll get a dose, too!"
    _____The kids had all stopped eating. All eyes darted between Uncle Billy, Aunty Carol, and Jessica, who apparently had another belting coming to her.
    _____Carol calmly said, "Jess, honey, sit down and take a couple slices of pepperoni; that's your favorite isn't it?"
    _____"Yes, Mom," she whispered, but seemed afraid to sit down.
    _____Billy Jr. lividly railed, "Hey, I'm talkin' t'you, woman!"
    _____Carol realized that the entire extended family had already heard Billy's side of the story, and probably Tommy's ill-informed embellishments as well, and were no doubt convinced that poor Jessica had been bagged in the process of giving head to the kid down the street. She calmly replied, "Billy, I know you're upset, and I've had a mother-to-daughter talk with Jess, and I really think we should discuss this later."
    _____He retorted, "What about father t'daughter talks? Huh? What about that?"
    _____Carol snidely said, "Yes, that talk worked out well. You did quite a number on her, too. Much more than Jimmy down the street ever would have done. I think she's had more than enough, and now it's dinner time."
    _____Billy Jr. yelled, "She ain't half done. I promised her a second round, an' she's gonna get it, by god! She's a— she's a—"
    _____That was when Billy's mother, Gramma Mary, interceded, "Billy, now Carol's right. I think a mother-daughter talk is best."
    _____"I know what I saw, I tell yeh!"
    _____Gramma Mary snarled, "Stop spitting on the table, pig! An' if you's even half-right, all the more reason why a mother-daughter talk works best." Gramma Mary said this with a low and level tone, in a way that made him shudder. No doubt, back in his formative years, that tone had often preceded his going over her knee.
    _____Then Gramma Mary kindly said to Jessica, who still crouched half in and out of her seat, "Si'down, honey, an' have as much pizza as yeh want. It's all over now. Would yeh like Orange or Cola? Lemme pour it, there's a dear. Yer growin' up so pretty, and it's nat'ral for a girl to have grown up feelin's at yer age. Ever'one just has t'get used t'not treatin' yeh like a little girl no more. Now just don't you worry about it, and have some pizza."
    _____Billy Jr. yelled, "It ain't over, goddamn it!"
    _____Uncle Phil said, "Chrissakes, Billy, give it a rest. Have another fuckin' beer."
    _____Carol deplored the language in front of the younger children, yet she need not have concerned herself with matters of decorum. In fact the kids were both inured and oblivious, and paid not the slightest attention. Carol didn't know whether to feel relief or sadness for this fact.
    _____In any event, most of the kids inhaled their dinner and escaped to various forms of passive entertainment. Jessica and Colleen were the last of the children to leave, hand in hand, no doubt to commiserate about the latest developments.
    _____Now only the adults remained at the dinner table.
    _____Billy Jr. still seemed to be spoiling for a fight, but Carol just put him right in his place. "Godsakes, Billy, can't you just admit you got carried away? Jessica's thing for Jimmy is just a late-summer crush, and it's winding down, so why don't you just leave it alone and let it end on its own?"
    _____"She's too young, woman!"
    _____"Too young for what?"
    _____"Fer what I saw in there! What would it've led to if I didn't stop'em? And there's more, goddamn it! She's thinkin' too much of boys, if yeh ask me. Got rock stars hangin' right on her bed an' ever'thing."
    _____Carol frowned and asked, "What are you talking about now, Billy? Jessica doesn't even listen to rock music. It interferes with her homework. Honestly, you sound crazy."
    _____"Go an' look, woman! She got a picture of some rock star right on her headboard."
    _____Carol laughed quietly and said, "Billy, Billy. That's not a picture of a rock star. Godsakes, he's wearing a business suit."
    _____William Sr. said, "My boy works in a fuckin' sheetmetal fact'ry. Wouldn't know a business suit from a fuckin' tuxedo."
    _____Billy Jr. spluttered, "Well who the fuck is that on her headboard, then, the president of the U.S. fuckin' A.?"
    _____Carol quietly and kindly informed him, "Of course not, honey. That's a picture of Dr. Spencer."
    _____This revelation did not have the intended calming effect. Surely, Carol had suspected as much, before she had said it, but she had surmised that at the rate her matchmaking efforts were progressing, the secret would not have held for long, regardless.
    _____Billy's eyes went wide as shot glasses, and he threw his empty beer can across the room, narrowly missing his own mother's head. Mary muttered imprecations. William Sr. stood up and threatened to beat the daylights out of him.
    _____"Well what's she got a picture of your fuckin' boss on her bed for, wearin' some fuckin' business suit? Tell me that!"
    _____Carol sighed and said, "I'd think you'd be happy he's not a rock star. If she has to pick a role model, why not a gentleman on the cover of Fortune?"
    _____"Role model? Role model?"
    _____Jessica's uncles were greatly enjoying this drama, and now the aunts inquired as to the events that had led to the presence of Dr. Spencer's photograph on Jessica's headboard.
    _____Carol calmly said, "It's nothing, nothing at all. I have family pictures on my desk. One day Dr. Spencer told me he thinks Jessi is pretty, and I told him she would probably find him handsome, too. It was just small talk, and anyway, he thought she might like to see a picture of him, so he copied the cover of the magazine. I showed it to Jess the other day, and I guess she liked it and decided to keep it."
    _____Billy Jr. had become stuck on the first point, and had barely registered a word of her explanation. "Yer boss has the hots for my baby girl?"
    _____"I didn't say that, Billy."
    _____Gramma Mary said, "No, she didn't say that at all."
    _____"Goddamn it, I won't have some rich college-boy bastard makin' moves on my daughter!"
    _____William Sr. said, "Jessi's got every dick in the neighborhood wearin' out the sidewalk at the front stoop, an' yeh seem to have a problem with punk brats down the street makin' moves on her. An' now yer nose is outta joint over the missy settin' her sights higher. So what'll it be, son?"
    _____Carol said, "Really, Billy, you're just going to have to get used to the idea that your girl is growing up. Guys are going to express interest in her, whether you like it or not. As your own father has just pointed out, Jessica is attractive, and men are taking notice. And I don't just mean my boss seeing her picture and making an innocent observation. I mean guys will be asking her out on dates, soon enough."
    _____"Goddamn it! Dating! She's a kid!"
    _____Billy's mom wisely said, "Jessi ain't no kid if men say she ain't, and if you go whuppin' her ass every time a guy gives her a peck on th'cheek, she'll just rebel, and get herself knocked up just to spite you. Take it from me, 'cause there ain't no other way yer big brother would have come into the world."
    _____"Thanks, Ma," said Phil Sr.
    _____"Weren't nuthin'."
    _____Billy Jr.'s head spun, and between swigs of his beer, he muttered, "Fuckin' high school, fuckin' datin', fuckin' posters of hot-shit college brats... I'll make her take that fuckin' poster down and I'll burn it right in front of her. All I gotta say is there ain't no way in hell the girly's picture is stayin' in that bastard's office another goddamn day."
    _____Carol ventured, as cautiously as possible, "Umm, well, Billy? I thought we could talk about that."
    _____"Talk about what, woman?"
    _____"Well like I said before, Dr. Spencer seems to approve of the picture of Jessi on my desk, and it has sort of warmed him up a little—"
    _____"I bet it has," he snapped.
    _____"I mean, he almost never said anything in the office except hello and goodbye, and now he seems to be more friendly. And well, Jessica was so touched by getting a picture from him, and she's obviously taken such a shine to him, hanging his picture up and all—"
    _____Billy Jr. glared, "Yeah? Yeah??"
    _____Carol took a deep breath and rushed, "Well it was totally Jessi's idea, and she asked me if there's room on my desk for more pictures, and I said there is, and she asked if Dr. Spencer would mind my putting a more recent picture of her on my desk, and I said I'm sure he wouldn't mind at all, so she wants to pose for a new portrait."
    _____Billy Jr. turned white as a sheet, and everyone else just stared, lost in their own thoughts. Billy Jr. darkly pressed, "Pose? My little girl's gonna pose for some pervert?"
    _____Uncle Phil interjected, "Lots o' good money in that."
    _____Aunty Penny snidely asked, with mock ignorance, "Whaddaya mean, Phil?"
    _____Uncle Phil explained, "You know, them Internet sites, where teenagers pose sexy in bikinis. Guys pay thirty or forty dollars a month to look at the pictures, you know, on their credit cards."
    _____Gramma Mary asked, "What d'they do that fer? To ogle primpin' cheerleaders and wack off?"
    _____Uncle Phil attempted to maintain his dignity, and calmly replied, "Not t'wack off, Ma. Not as such. It ain't sexual. It's artistic. They just admire young beautiful girls, is all."
    _____Aunty Penny snorted, "Bullshit, Phil. Yeh wouldn't know art from piss on a crucifix. Bunch of wankers is all they are, starchin' their jammies over little harlots, I guess."
    _____Uncle Phil Sr. pressed on, "The point is, those sites pay, lots of'em. Bunch o'girls put themselves through college doin' it. Nothin' wrong with that. Beats pole dancin', don't it?"
    _____Billy Jr., who had never used the Internet and had zero appreciation for its many and diverse cultural benefits, finally interrupted, "The girly ain't whorin' herself t'no college from bein' a pinup girl on the fuckin' Internet!"
    _____Carol kindly said, "No one ever said she would, Billy. She just wants to improve on the portrait that I have at my work desk. That's all."
    _____Billy Jr. yelled, "Woman, you an' that blowhard asswipe work in the same goddamn room. I weren't born yesterday! An' yer not takin' a single fuckin' picture of my little girl without me in the room." Whereupon all the other men declared that they wanted to be in the room, too.
    _____Carol, wanting at this point only to make it happen, even if the pictures would have to be toned down somewhat from her original conception, readily acceded, "Of course, Billy, you can chaperone. That's a good idea."
    _____"Well thank Christ yeh respect me for somethin', woman."
    _____Uncle Mike yelled, "And what about us?"
    _____Billy Jr. said, "Course yeh can be here. Fuck. This ain't posin' for no Internet; just a nice family style photo, is all."
    _____Phil Sr. called his boys in from across the house, and sent them downstairs to fetch the girls.
    _____A few minutes later, Colleen came up alone and declared, "Jessi's not coming up if she's gonna be spanked again."
    _____Carol said, "Of course, not, dear. Tell her it's time to take some pictures for her new portrait. Grampa Bill's letting us use his digital camera. Jessi should come up with whatever outfits she wants to wear."
    _____Colleen, who obviously had been getting the lowdown all this time, brightly asked, "Can I help?"
    _____"Of course you can, dear; I think that would help to put Jess at ease, instead of just being surrounded by all these horny old bastards while she poses."
    _____Colleen giggled and raced downstairs.
    _____A couple minutes later she returned with Jessica, who peeked around the corner shrewdly, rightfully anxious that she might only have been lured up for another thrashing.
    _____Colleen pulled her into the room, saying, "Here she is!"
    _____Jessica held a gym bag full of clothes.
    _____Now the whole party trooped out into Grampa Bill and Gramma Mary's living room, which had more floor space than any room downstairs and that had furniture that was not booby-trapped with exposed springs.
    _____Jessica asked if everyone really intended on watching.
    _____Her mother said, "Well, Daddy kind of insists on it, but your Gramma and aunties will be here too, and Colleen gets to stay. Is that all right?"
    _____ "I suppose so," Jessica replied. "What should I wear?"
    _____Carol replied, "Whatever you like, sweety. Why don't you and Colleen just go into Gramma's spare bedroom. Pick something out and surprise us."
    _____Jessica whispered in her Mom's ear, "I wanted to wear the sexy stuff."
    _____Her mother shrewdly said, "Best not now. Maybe later, after everyone loses interest. Try a school outfit for now."
    _____Jessica gnashed her teeth and grumbled, in an irritated whisper, "I only have one outfit that I like, and he has already seen it."
    _____Carol took Jessica by the cheeks, stared straight into her eyes, and whispered, "Trust me, love. He will not mind seeing it again."
    _____Jessica smiled at her mother, nodded, and hurried out, hand in hand with Colleen.
    _____Billy Jr. pried, "What was you two sayin'?"
    _____Carol airily replied, "Oh, she just wanted to know if she could start with a bikini."
    _____"Over my dead body!" he declared.
    _____Gramma Mary declared, "Chrissakes, Billy, did I raise a fuckin' prude. Whole beach has seen your little girl in a bikini all summer, and don't think they haven't noticed that ass o'hers."
    _____"That ain't the point!"
    _____Billy Jr.'s father retorted, "No, son; that's exactly the fuckin' point. Just keep yer goddamn trap shut and let the girls work out what she's gonna wear."


    _____The cousins sat upon a quilted bedspread among a grisly coterie of stuffed owls. Jessica rummaged in her gym bag, grumbling all the while.
    _____Colleen chewed on her tongue. Then she spoke. "So your Mom's boss, this Spencer nutcase, bought you underwear. Wow. I mean, like, fuck. Wow."
    _____Jessica growled into her gym bag.
    _____"And you're supposed to model for him. Wow."
    _____Jessica growled again, and hauled her one decent school outfit from the bag.
    _____"Okay. That picture on your headboard? Hawt. Snaps for hawtness. Grade-A boycake. But Jessi, this is fucking weird."
    _____Jessica ground her teeth together and seethed, "My Mom's getting desperate, that's all."
    _____"Desperate for what?"
    _____"To land this pervo, Dr. Spencer."
    _____Colleen, wise beyond her years, asked, "For her, or for you?"
    _____Jessica stared at her cousin with a raised eyebrow and scoffed, "Oh, please. This is just to help my Mom. Nothing more."
    _____Colleen sighed, and gently combed Jessica's silky, waist-length brunette hair, and silently ruminated upon the vision of male perfection pinned to her cousin's headboard. She sighed again. She fretted. She caressed Jessica's neck, with apparent longing.
    _____"Just spit it out, Coll."
    _____Colleen huffed out a chestful of air and said, "You would look older, if we pinned your hair back."
    _____"Why would I want to look older?"
    _____"Jess. We could pass you for eighteen— maybe even nineteen— with just a bit of effort. He would really go for you, if we lifted a finger to help it along."
    _____"Don't get me hoping, Coll. Just don't. My mother's pitching him a package deal. Nothing more. We're doing this for her."
    _____"So you do like him."
    _____"I did not say that. Absolutely not."
    _____"Sure, sure. I could fetch you some bubblegum, Jess. Or maybe even a lollipop."
    _____Jessica growled, "Just don't, Colleen Turner. This is hard enough as it is."
    _____"Fine. Whatever. Get dressed."
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  22. #22
    Precious princess
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. i

    _____Colleen emerged first, with a broad smile, and introduced Jessica, who strutted in, all bubbly and proud, wearing her best school outfit, which consisted of Adidas sneakers, bobbi socks with pompoms, and her favorite new ensemble, the mini-skirt and halter top colored in white with pastel polka dots, which completely bared her hollow tummy from her ribs to her waist. For accessories Jessica had donned two black jelly bracelets. Having finally relented to Colleen's strident insistence, she had pulled her hair back in a clip, baring her slender neck.
    _____Jessica also evidently wore one of her new silk bras, which she flaunted by pushing her slim chest out to the fullest extent of her ability.
    _____The women clapped appreciatively at Jessica's presentation. The uncles and grandfather wolf-whistled. Dear Daddy, luckily, was too incensed over the tableau to be perceptive to details.
    _____Colleen glowed happily, since she had directed the application of the accessories. Whatever butterflies Jessica had been experiencing in the spare bedroom dissipated under the force of her effort to bury herself deep into character. She now struck a pose in profile, so as to accentuate her meager positives, and then turned, putting her back to the audience with an arched spine, and gazed over her shoulder at them with wide eyes and an 'o' shaped mouth. Then she executed a smart about-face and gave them a big smile, with hands over her head, shoulders back and chest out, flipping her skirt up to flash her candystripe panties.
    _____Grampa's digital camera lit the room all the while, under the operation of Jessica's shrewd, resourceful and alarmingly ruthless mother.
    _____Her father went berserk. He yelled, "You tellin' me yeh dress like that fer school?"
    _____"Sure, Daddy. This is standard attire."
    _____"To hell it is! No daughter o'mine dresses like that t'school, bellybutton showin'!"
    _____Carol chided, "You're either asleep or still out in the graveyard shift when she dresses for school, so how would you know?"
    _____"I'm just sayin! Adidas sneakers!"
    _____Gramma Mary demanded, "So what? They're sneakers. All the kids wear sneakers t'school."
    _____Dad yelled, "Them ain't just sneakers! They're code! Get it? All Day I Dream About Sex?"
    _____Gramma Mary mouthed the words in apparently deep concentration, suddenly grasped the acronym, and unsympathetically accused, "Only an old pervert would know somethin' like that. I say they're cute, 'specially with them pompoms on her socks."
    _____The two cousins giggled.
    _____Billy Jr. persisted, "An' them jelly bracelets! Those tell any senior she'll go 'round the horn for the askin'."
    _____Carol crossly said, "Goddamn it, Billy. Your Mom's right. They're just bracelets."
    _____Colleen, who knew damned well what black jelly bracelets meant, innocently said, "I think her accessories are just right."
    _____Jessica also made a pretty pout, and clearly enjoyed the revenge she was now having on her father for having humiliated her in front of Jimmy that afternoon. She realized this was all going her way, with the aunties and Gramma Mary and Grampa Bill there to hold Daddy in check. She pouted, "Daddy, I like my jelly bracelets, and I won't go around the horn with any seniors without your permission, I swear."
    _____"You better not, neither."
    _____"Promise, Daddy. Cross my heart. Underclassmen only."
    _____"Goddamn it, girly—"
    _____Aunty Penny said, "Billy, Chris'sakes, get a fuckin' grip."
    _____Billy Jr. threw himself onto a couch and worked on his injured look while nursing his ninth beer since three in the afternoon.
    _____Carol had taken more than forty pictures of Jessica, from every conceivable angle, under the thin pretense of testing the light, by the time it occurred to her that she should at least go through the motions of composing a formal portrait. She firmly booted Billy Jr. off the couch and instructed Jessica to take his place. "Jess, why don't you sit properly for a few, before your Daddy bursts a blood vessel."
    _____Billy Jr. had seen enough. He threw his empty beer can at the wall and stormed out of the room.
    _____Carol took a deep breath and muttered, "Finally. Cross your legs, sweety. Hands on your knees, and smile."
    _____Grampa Bill blinked with irritation at the rapid flashes of the camera and grumbled, "How many portraits are you gonna hang in this office o'his?"
    _____Carol calmly replied, without looking back, "I'll put them on a CD and bring them in. Dr. Spencer is going to have to pick one, of course."
    _____Uncle Mikey muttered, "Bet he picks one of her ass."
    _____That remark earned a hard slap from Aunty Penny.
    _____Daddy returned to have another go at anyone who would pay attention. Jessica and Colleen ignored him and fell into a huddle. By the time they emerged, conversation among the men had devolved, once again, into considerations of entrepreneurialism and profit, largely at Jessica's expense. The pair ignored this tripe as well, and pulled Mom into an impromptu conference. Colleen did the talking.
    _____"Aunty Carol, we want to do a few more special pictures for Dr. Spencer, but it has to be in Jessi's room."
    _____For a fraction of a second, Carol roiled with misgivings, but before the full second elapsed, she overcame her qualms. "Okay. Certainly, honey."
    _____By that time, all the other men and women were so busy yelling at each other, that Carol had no difficulty in slipping out with the two girls.
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. j

    _____Downstairs, in the relative seclusion of her bedroom and in the company only of her mother and Colleen, Jessica stripped down to her new bra, and put on the frilly lace thong, the one with pinkie-sized holes in lieu of a proper crotch panel.
    _____Colleen appreciatively said, "That's the best prezzie of all, we think. Aunty Carol, Jessi told me Dr. Spencer bought these for her. Is that really true?"
    _____"It sure is," Carol smoothly lied.
    _____"Wow. He must really like her."
    _____"Yes, I suppose he does," Carol replied.
    _____Jessica looked up at them and irritably said, "Can it, Colleen. We've been through this."
    _____Carol gave her niece an inquiring look, and Colleen replied, "Nothing, Aunty. Jessica's too busy not hoping to see the obvious."
    _____"That's probably my fault," Carol replied. "I've told Jess that we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves."
    _____Jessica silently worked on her next ensemble, such as it was, and tried to ignore all the inane plotting between Colleen and Mom. It really was too much to be borne. Given she planned on wearing nothing but her bra and the lacy thong, she did not have much to prepare. She bought a little bit more time, and gave them more time to commiserate, by comparing the merits of various panties and thongs that had been presented to her that afternoon. In the end, she decided to stick with her original choice, the flimsy little swatch of lacy negligée. Then, on a whim, she unsnapped the bra, with the realization that she could easily ascertain, once and for all, just how far Mom would go, to ingratiate herself with this crass old pervert, Dr. Nelson Spencer. All too soon, she emerged from her reverie and interrupted them.
    _____"I'm ready," Jessica brightly announced.
    _____She had pulled the lace thong up tight, and having removed the bra, she now wore nothing else, nothing at all. She turned her back to them and knelt at the head of her bed, bottom up, and kissed Dr. Spencer's picture, pushing her heart shaped posterior back toward the camera. She spread her knees about a yard apart on the coverlets for good measure, baring herself completely. Given the diameter of the holes in the lace, these shots undoubtedly left absolutely nothing to the imagination. Jessica could as well have been wearing nothing at all. In fact, she felt more naked in the flimsy thong than she would have done, had she been stark naked.
    _____Nevertheless, the headboard and wall illuminated repeatedly under the impetus of the camera flash.
    _____Jessica rolled upon her back, spread knees up in the air, and put her arms behind her head. She closed her eyes, and felt the heat of the flash through her eyelids.
    _____So far as Jessica could discern, Mom apparently had no qualms whatsoever with photographing her bare breasts and spread crotch. Had every shred of common sense abandoned her? Jessica decided to find out. She went for broke and asked, "Mom, can I do just a few naked ones?"
    _____Carol bit her lip for a moment with closed eyes, and then said, "Of course you can, honey, if you want to. They're your pictures."
    _____Colleen's face glowed, eyes big as saucers.
    _____Jessica pulled the panties down slowly while her mother snapped away, and when the flimsy silk came all the way off, she lay on her back, spread her legs into a negative straddle, and rolled her naked bum right up until her toes touched the opposing edges of the headboard. She smiled at the overheated camera, and whispered, "He'll really like this one."
    _____Carol's misgivings nearly knocked her off her feet, at the sight of her naked daughter, prostrate in the most compromising attitude imaginable. But then she recalled elfin Vanessa Curtis, and the winsome blonde tart, Laura Ableton, and she buried her qualms for good. Carol zoomed the lens straight up between her daughter's legs and murmured, "Dr. Spencer sure will appreciate this pose, honey. Hold right there."
    _____Winsome Laura Ableton and feisty Vanessa Curtis no doubt had their qualities, but Jessica still possessed one little attribute that they did not. The flash lit the room, and obliterated all trace of shadow within her precious daughter's most intimate interior, five times with varied settings of the telephoto lens.
    _____"Listen, sweety, we'd better wrap this up before your Uncles and Aunties decide to move the party down here. Why don't you get dressed."
    _____Jessica came to her senses at just about the same moment as her mother, and stared ruefully at the lens of the camera. She sat up, covered her privates with both arms, and scrambled for the clothes that she had dropped on the floor.
    _____Colleen tossed a rugby shirt to Jessica, and she put it on none too soon, because Daddy stormed in, followed by Gramma Mary and Grampa Bill, both of whom seemed to be trying to grab their drunken son by the shorthairs.
    _____"Here you are! This is where yeh run off to!"
    _____Carol coldly said, "For Godsakes, Billy give it a rest."
    _____"I said I had to chaperone!" he insisted.
    _____She lied, "We finished upstairs."
    _____"Well what are yeh doin' down here, then?"
    _____"Girl talk," Carol replied simply.
    _____This explanation did not satisfy him, but Carol did not care. Gramma Mary pulled her son out by the ear, and the rest followed. Jessica shut the door and barricaded it with her dresser.
    _____Colleen and Jessica stared ruefully at the ceiling until they heard the door slam in the upstairs landing.
    _____"What a bunch of such slobs," Colleen groused.
    _____Jessica seethed, "They smell like ashtrays."
    _____Colleen giggled, and trumped her cousin and virtual sister by declaring, "They smell like piss."
    _____Jessica speculated, "And their drawers have skidmarks, I bet."
    _____Colleen concluded, "And they're fat."
    _____Carol chimed in, "What would you be saying about me if I'd gone up with them?"
    _____Colleen instantly answered, "That you're cool, Aunty Carol."
    _____Carol flustered with pride, that her high school aged niece would declare her cool, but then her heart really lifted when her own Jessica nodded earnestly.
    _____"You are like, so hip, Mom."
    _____"And that's why I'm still here?"
    _____Colleen said, "No. Jess and I have been talking, and you're still here because we want you to tell us how to get guys."
    _____Carol sardonically said, "I don't know if you need much help from me— you both seem to be doing fine on your own. You both have boyfriends."
    _____Jessica said, "Yeah, but Jimmy is just a boy, Mom. He is not even old enough to drive. And besides, I have broken up with him four times since August, and next time it is going to stick. I am so done with him."
    _____Colleen added, "And my boyfriend, Carl? He can't drive, either, but like it doesn't even matter; he's more like a bud. He has real girlfriends and I think he's just being nice to me."
    _____"Has this bud kissed you?"
    _____"A couple times, but just pecks. Not like a nice kiss."
    _____Carol sat on the bed between the girls and said, "You can do your parts to make it a good kiss. Most girls don't actively participate; they just let the guy lead. But if you really like the guy and you want him to know it, you can lead, and most guys will respond."
    _____"What do you mean, 'lead,' Aunty Carol?"
    _____Carol said to her avid charges, "Well, have you ever danced with a guy who had his hands all over you, on your butt and feeling you up?"
    _____Colleen said, "Sure, but like it was at a school dance with people all around, and I made him stop."
    _____Carol said, "Girls, it is never wrong to make the guy stop. What happens to your body is entirely up to you. But, having the guy's hands on your butt probably felt pretty good, right?"
    _____Colleen shrugged, "Well sure, I guess."
    _____"Ok. So think about it, girls. The guy's groping you in a room full of people, and two things are happening. First of all, the guy's brain has shut off completely, and he no longer has any idea that he's in a room full of people. As far as he's concerned, he's the only person in the room. Especially if he tries to get his hands down the front of your jeans. Then you know he's not thinking about anything but himself, unless you slap him to break the spell."
    _____Colleen indignantly asked, "Well what about me? I'm sure as hell there!"
    _____Carol replied, "No, honey, you're not. Your body is there, but that's it, as far as he's concerned. He has no clue whether or not you like being pawed and groped, and couldn't care less either way. What he's really doing is telling you what he wants you to do to him."
    _____Jessica burst, "No way!"
    _____Colleen fell back on the bed laughing.
    _____Jessica said, "You mean he doesn't really want to get in my pants?"
    _____Carol replied, "Oh, he does, but on his terms, and at that point you could be anyone at all. What he really wants is for you to grope him, get in his pants, and take him out."
    _____Colleen gasped, "Right there on the dance floor?"
    _____"Sure. But if you give him even a hint that you're open to doing what he wants, his legs will get you both moving to a dark corner somewhere, and by that time his legs won't need any help at all from his brain."
    _____Jessica said, "You know Mom, this answers so much. It all makes sense now. Jimmy would start out with his hands all over me, but the second I so much as touched him back, he could care less about ever touching me again, as long as I would agree to hold his thingy."
    _____"Well girls, that's how boys work. It's not complicated. Their brains just stop, and whatever you might think they're doing to you, it's really all for them. What they're really doing is performing a kind of sign language, like a penguin's mating dance, to show you what they want you to do to them. And that inevitably becomes a problem."
    _____"Why?" the cousins asked together.
    _____"Because girls like to be touched, but they like a long slow build up. I don't know about you two, but I like it even more if I'm made to wait for it, because the anticipation makes it even better. Guys can't even imagine the point of waiting, and they don't have a shred of patience. And I'm not talking just about high school boys. Impatience is a problem that men never outgrow."
    _____Jessica cocked her head and asked, "Mom, you and Daddy Dearest have been together for ages, so he must have a clue by now. Does Daddy-o know any of this? I mean, does he make you wait for it?"
    _____"Of course not, honey. Once a month he forgets to drink himself drunk and manages to get it up. Then he tackles me onto the bed and barely gets it into me long enough to dribble out a month's worth of cold showers."
    _____This account of Carol's sex life— or absence thereof— put the girls into hysterics, but once they calmed down, for Jessica a question lingered in the air: who was romancing Mom, if not Dear Daddy-o? Not that the answer troubled her all that much. She hoped Mother had a secret romance, because it struck her as so unfair that Mom had to be stuck with a fat drunk cigarette smoking debt ridden two-bit gambler who couldn't even put food on the table or their own roof over their heads, which was why they ate upstairs at Gramma Mary's so often, and why Mother Dearest had to put up with being groped and molested by Grampa Bill for payment. She felt herself drifting silently and stealthily toward a fundamental question that had been flirting with her awareness ever since Mom had taken her big plunge into the workforce.
    _____Jessica shrewdly asked, "Mom, can I ask you something?"
    _____"Sure, sweetheart."
    _____"Just don't get mad."
    _____"I won't, promise."
    _____Jessica looked to Colleen for support, who nodded, prodding her on. Obviously they had rehearsed this question, whatever it was. Carol hoped the question would pertain to Dr. Spencer's apparent interest in an underaged girl. Colleen and Jessica were old enough, shrewd enough, and experienced enough to know that it just wasn't normal for a mature, well-adjusted twenty-six year old man to have an amorous interest in a girl still in her teens, and Carol imagined that this must be a real turnoff for them. Yet Jessica had readily posed for the camera—she could have been called enthusiastic about the project, and had even consented to pose nude for the finale— so what was that all about? If Jessica had misgivings about Dr. Spencer's interest, her trepidation could not possibly run too deeply, not after the culmination of the posing session.
    _____Jessica launched right into the deep water, and Carol realized that her suppositions had been completely wrong. "It's just... well... you must like Dr. Spencer a lot, Mom. He must be really rich— he probably has a nice car, and he must have his own house— and he is extraordinarily handsome, and he is on the covers of magazines, and, well...."
    _____Carol encouraged, "What's your question, dear?"
    _____Jessica took a deep breath and said, "Well Colleen and I just thought that maybe Dr. Spencer could be, you know, attracted to you. And we are thinking that is why you're giving him pictures of me: so he'll get used to your already having a family, and so I will get used to the idea that he could be more than just your boss. Mom, if you want to start a romance with Dr. Spencer, it is totally okay. I wouldn't say a word to Dad."
    _____Now Carol understood.
    _____Jessica had been submitting to the photography, had been debasing herself, in order to give her mother a better chance of nabbing Dr. Spencer. And Jessica's sacrifice was so selfless and touching that it nearly made Carol cry.
    _____Jessica's lip quivered as she awaited her mother's reaction. She looked as though she might cry herself.
    _____Carol reached forward and took Jessica into her arms. She assured the girl, "That's so sweet, honey. I'm not mad at all, and thanks for asking. But honey, you've got it all wrong. Dr. Spencer is interested in someone else."
    _____Both Colleen and Jessica studied her with intense skepticism. They obviously did not believe her. They had put a lot of thought into this theory, and they were not ready to abandon it.
    _____"Then why—" Colleen began.
    _____Carol gently cut her off, "Honestly. Dr. Spencer is definitely not interested in me. He has told me, on several occasions, that our relationship is, and must remain, strictly professional. But he is very interested in another young lady."
    _____Colleen frowned at Jessica, who hugged her Mom even tighter and said, "I'm sorry Mom, but you know what? You can give him any of the pictures from tonight. Even the naughty ones from the end, umm, if it will help him change his mind."
    _____Carol smiled to herself and said to her daughter, "Honey, I guarantee those pictures will not change his mind a single bit, but I will give them to him anyway. So, to return to the original subject, have you guessed what you can do to nail a guy you really like?"
    _____Jessica still had her arm around Mom. Colleen hugged her Aunty Carol from the other side, and they both looked up at her expectantly. So young, so naive, yet they wanted desperately to know how to sink their hooks into an older guy who could support them, a man whom they could respect. Kids grew up so fast. Carol wished so much that she had not settled for the first bastard who had shown up with a driver's license.
    _____Carol said, "Okay, I'll tell you exactly how to get a man and keep him, but first I have to warn you: this is guaranteed to work, so watch out what you wish for."
    _____Colleen asked, "What do you mean?"
    _____"I mean, ladies, it works on the bad ones as well as the good ones, so you have to be careful, or you'll end up with a fat drunk chain-smoking debt ridden slob who can't put food on the table, yet does his very best to keep you barefoot and pregnant so you're surrounded by eight screaming hungry brats for the rest of your short miserable lives."
    _____The impressionable young ladies looked up at her with wide shocked eyes.
    _____"The point," she said tenderly yet implacably, "is not to scare you, but to remind you that you're both very lucky in the looks department. You're both incredibly beautiful young women, and you're already turning the heads of men two and three times your age. That's not going to change, because you're both just going to keep growing prettier. So you don't have to settle for the first pimple faced jerk with a hardon who borrows his father's beat-up station wagon to drive you out to some parking lot, you understand?"
    _____They nodded earnestly.
    _____"You're also lucky in the smarts department, so I hope you're going to remember all of this. Because once the guy's brain stops working, it will be up to you to do all the thinking.
    _____"On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to find the One, and you're absolutely sure, you might have just one chance to get him, so don't waste it. You're competing against spoiled tarts who have an eternity to hold out for a decent guy. Girls who live in big houses and have dads who will defend their honor; dads who will rent out the entire Park Plaza Hotel and throw bigger coming-out parties for their princesses' sweet sixteens than any wedding you'll witness in your lifetimes; dads who will insist their girls go to college for six years to earn a masters degree so they won't ever have to go begging to a man; dads who will put their darlings up with rent-free room and board well into their late twenties, just to have them brighten the room; dads who won't have to rent a fucking tuxedo for fifty dollars to walk them down the aisle." Carol said all of this in a bitter rant, and the cousins were astute enough to know that she must have been referring to the contrast between Grampa Bill, and the life she had inherited, versus the life she had lost. Colleen and Jessica did sort of look up to Grampa Bill, whom they could tolerate when he wasn't goosing and ogling them, but then again, in the company of their own fathers, he sure did look imposing and responsible, even though he stood barely taller than Carol and lived at the top of a triple decker in a crappy neighborhood with a sagging clothesline, a decrepit weedy yard, and a rusted chain link fence that Tommy had cut himself on over the summer badly enough to require a tetanus shot, and didn't everyone rent tuxedos? Could you really buy them?
    _____Colleen resentfully protested, "You make us sound like deadbeats. We're not."
    _____Carol smiled and said, "I'm glad you don't think so, and try not to take this the wrong way, but you don't know any better. In this neighborhood there aren't too many nice guys to choose from. The ones with nice cars and houses are as likely to be loan sharks and drug dealers as anything else, and any guy in this neighborhood who opens his car door to offer you a lift is either looking to buy you for an hour or to whore you out himself."
    _____Jessica looked appalled.
    _____"Anyway, pay attention—" a silly admonition, since the two girls stared raptly— "because here's the thing that's guaranteed to work. Women appreciate a slow build-up, but men don't. Remember, whatever touching they're doing to you is just to show you what they want you to do to them, and the longer you don't return the favor, as they see it, the more grabby and desperate they're going to get, to the point where they're twisting your panties into knots trying to get their fingers into you, because you just won't take the hint. What the guy really wants from you, even more than just knowing you like him, is that you like him that way, which means, there's no rush, because you're going to give him anything he wants, whenever and however he wants it. The sooner you let him know that, the better, and that's when he'll finally calm down and relax. In fact, that's the only way he'll relax. So if you're dancing with a guy who's running his hands from the bottom of your ass to the top of your underarms, all you have to do, to calm him down and let you enjoy the rest of the dance, is let him know that whatever he wants, he's going to get it, and he's going to love it, and there's no hurry, and this is a nice song."
    _____Colleen burst, "But how do we tell him all that?"
    _____"You don't tell him, silly; words are no good! Remember, his brain has stopped working. If you start talking, you'll just piss him off and make it worse."
    _____Jessica cried, "But if the guy's brain's not working, how do we let him know he can have it all?"
    _____Carol smiled in an infuriating way and said, "Simple, you just show him, and as soon as possible. The faster the better, really."
    _____"How?" they both demanded.
    _____"Easy. You just touch him back."
    _____Colleen scowled and snapped, "That's all? But we're dancing with him. We're already touching him!"
    _____Carol explained, "Yes, but not where they want to be touched. You don't have to beat around the bush with guys. In fact touching them all around, on their backs, their necks, and wherever-else, just draws attention to where you're not touching them, and slows things down. As far as guys are concerned, the only worthwhile place you can touch them is you-know-where."
    _____The girls collapsed into giggles.
    _____Carol waited sportingly.
    _____Jessica scoffed, "Mother, really. Right on the dance floor?"
    _____"Sure. Do it fast, and then let your hand linger. Just cup their groin through their pants and hold it. Don't rub; don't wave your arm around to draw attention that you're up to something. As long as you do it calmly, no one in the room will notice, because the teachers and monitors and other students will be too busy watching guys grope their partners' asses. Just hold the guy's groin and gently squeeze. He will instantly calm down, and he may even pretend nothing is happening, because he won't be sure if you mean to do it, or if it's just an accident, and like a good dream that he doesn't want to end, he will be afraid to do anything that will make you take your hand away.
    _____"Now, the guy might say something after awhile, and because his brain's not working, it might even be a little rude. The guy might blurt out some vague compliment, like 'you're the best dancer I've ever danced with,' or it could be a bit insulting, like 'you sure do work fast,' and what you have to understand is that if the compliment sounds moronic, it's because his brain's not working, and what he really wants is to be told that this is not an accident and that it's really happening. And if he says something insulting or degrading, it's also because his brain's not working, and it would be a mistake to think the guy wants you to stop what you're doing, because that's the last thing he wants. He just wants it to go on, and the longer it goes on, the happier and calmer he will be. So here is what you say, no matter what he says— whether it's a compliment, or an insult. Even if he says something really dopey, like, 'Say, Colleen, do you know your hand is on my dick,' you do not take your hand away. You just squeeze a bit tighter, or if you really think you can get away with it, without drawing attention from anyone around you, you could even rub him up and down a little bit— not with your whole forearm, but just with your fingers, suggestively, so no one notices. And here is how you can respond, no matter what he says: 'Carl, I don't usually dance like this, but I really like you a lot and I can't help it.'"
    _____Colleen skeptically asked, "That's all?"
    _____Carol nodded and confirmed, "That's all. Remember, his brain is starved for oxygen and barely functional. It doesn't take much. Less is more. Now, once you've calmed him down, then it gets tricky. If the guy is older, his paranoia will likely set in, especially with you two."
    _____"Why us?" Jessica asked, with a pout that most definitely proved Carol's point.
    _____"Because the guy is, like, twenty-two years old or something, and it's pretty damned obvious that you two won't be buying your own booze for a few years. And the guy is thinking about your Dad at home with a white shotgun, and he's thinking about police beating him with truncheons, and he's thinking about ending up on some registered pervert list and spending years behind bars. Above all those minor concerns, he's also thinking that you two are pictures of hawtness, and he's just not going to believe that this is really happening, and that you're actually ready to go off with him and let him have it all. So at this point lots of guys are going to oversell the deal, even though you've already said yes. They're going to say stupid things like, 'You know, we could just kiss some more,' or, 'we can talk and get to know each other better,' or some other infantile thing, when all they really want to do is get your clothes off as soon as possible and put babies inside your little selves immediately, if not sooner."
    _____Colleen and Jessica giggled at this again, but they both looked pretty flustered, too.
    _____Carol said, "Whatever dumb thing the guy says at this point, what you don't want to do is burst the balloon by saying, 'Yes, talking would be nice,' or 'that sounds good, I like to talk and I want to get to know you better, too,' or, 'goody, I really like to kiss.' Because if you do that, all you're doing is confirming their worst fears. So once again, you just squeeze the guy's package tightly with all five fingers, or you can rub it a little, just for purposes of suggestion, if you think you can get away with it, and you respond with as few words as possible, but you essentially say, 'We can do whatever you want.' In fact, if you want him, the best possible response, if you can get away with it, is simply, 'Yes,' because anything else will make his brain work. 'Yes' is all he wants to hear, and all he's capable of hearing with reliability. And at that point, ladies, the ball will be in his court. Take my word for it, a plan of action, for better or worse, will come to what's left of his mind."
    _____Colleen asked a shrewd and perceptive question. "Okay, Aunty Carol, so then the guy gets me into the broom closet or the men's room or wherever, and then what? You've also told us our virginity is precious and everything."
    _____"Yes, well that's where my initial warning comes in: this method will work on any guy, any guy at all. So you absolutely have to be choosy. But remember, at a high school dance you're going to be mingling with boys who are still jerking off every night, so when you say you'll do anything, they're not thinking beyond getting their rocks off. You can help them with that by giving them a handjob. And for boys of that sort, you will not have to exert yourselves for more than two or three minutes."
    _____Colleen said, "Yeah, but older guys, they'll want more—"
    _____"Yes, older guys certainly will. They'll want to get into your panties for real, and here's the thing. You should never tell a guy he can have anything, and then not give it to him. And that's where you have to be very choosy. An older man will definitely want to bed you, and ideally he'll want to be the first. If he knows you're a virgin, that will turn him on so much that he won't even be able to think straight. The guy will definitely take your virginity if you let him, and odds are he won't use protection. Guys prefer unprotected sex. Remember, their brains are long gone by that point, and they're not thinking about anything at all, least of all some abstract consequence nine months hence. And if, God forbid, they do tag you, then they'll accuse you of sleeping with just anyone, and they'll dump you in a huff, and the best thing you'll be able to hope for is money for an abortion, if you even get that, because most high school and college guys can't afford abortions without their parents' help, and they'll be too afraid to ask for the money.
    _____"So you have to use this method only with men who are already stable, successful, and can afford to support you, and are ready for a commitment. And just so you know, the real catches, the men who can do what's right and act honorably if they put you in a family way, those men are not going to be at a high school dance, or at a college frat party, or on the local street corner."
    _____"Where do we find them?" Colleen demanded, with a note of desperation.
    _____Carol replied, "When and if you find the one, you'll know. Now to bed with you, you little scamps. It's only Tuesday; it's very late, and you have school tomorrow." Carol kissed and hugged them both, and scurried out.
    _____The girls watched the door close, and then looked significantly at the picture, pinned to Jessica's headboard, of Dr. Nelson Spencer.
    _____Jessica declared, "He would be perfect for my Mom. I just know it. Dr. Spencer would not be afraid of commitment. And he is very well-to-do."
    _____Colleen mused, "Yeah, but your Mom says he already has the hots for someone else."
    _____Jessica deviously murmured, "Bullshit. He's hot for my Mom, and she just doesn't want to tell me. Probably thinks I would rat her out to Daddy-o. As if."
    _____Colleen giggled nervously, and then said, "Say what you want, Jess. But that negligée he bought you? I think that's just about the hottest thing I've ever heard of, and he didn't buy those prezzies for your mother. And plus... well, the note."
    _____Jessica looked at her, somewhat scared. They scurried up to the headboard, and Colleen turned the picture over, revealing the note that Dr. Spencer had penned on the back. Both girls, on the same moment, silently mouthed the word, 'fondly.'
    _____Colleen whispered, "Forget your Mom, Jess. You. He wants you."
    _____Jessica said, "Maybe he really is some kind of pervert."
    _____Colleen retorted, "So what? And Jimmy's not? Men come in two flavors: perverts, and rich perverts. Maybe this Dr. Spencer has single friends."
    _____Jessica smirked at her older cousin and said, "If I ever get the chance, I'll ask him."
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  24. #24
    Precious princess
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. k

    _____Carol did not go straight back up to the party. Instead, she stole downstairs, to the first floor, where Mikey and Penny lived, ostensibly to check on the younger children who were still awake and out of their sleeping bags and beds. Carol admonished them all to get under the covers and go to sleep.
    _____Then she used Mikey's computer to dump the pictures out of William Sr.'s camera and onto a thumb drive. She knew she would not have enough time to work on the pictures that evening, but she absolutely had to save her own copy, and wipe out the memory on the camera, or the pictures would end up God-only-knew-where.
    _____Ten minutes after sneaking onto Mikey's computer, Carol returned to the third floor to return the empty digital camera to the top of Mary's cupboard, out of sight, out of mind, where William Sr. would hopefully neglect to find it for a few days. The longer it took the men of the household to realize the memory had been wiped, the better. Tucked into Carol's pocket, stored to the thumb drive, were the only copies of the photographs in existence. The pictures were far too dangerous to work on at home. She would finish the photo album, and burn it to CD, at work.


    _____As things turned out, Carol only found a couple free hours, between Wednesday and Friday, to work on the new photo album. She and Dr. Spencer crossed paths in the office too frequently. The photo album would not be finished for the weekend. It would have to wait until Monday. Dr. Spencer, to his credit, neither hounded her, nor pried, nor even mentioned the imminent pictures even once over the next three days.
    _____Jessica was another story. She asked each night, and returned the most endearing expression of dejection when, once again, Mom conveyed, "I have a lot going on at work, honey. He'll just have to wait."
    _____Jessica reminded her mother, "You, yourself told me to work fast. I love Dad, but I am cool with this. If you want him, you should stop procrastinating, and get him."
    _____"Jess, he can wait a few more days."
    _____"Mother. I don't have to remind you that I have done my part."
    _____Carol simply shook her head with a combination of exasperation and bemusement, looked down at Jessica's notebook, and blanched. "What in God's name are you doing?"
    _____"Don't change the subject."
    _____"Jess, answer the question."
    _____"It is just homework."
    _____"What kind of homework?"
    _____"Okay, okay. It's not homework. I am trying some exercises from a math book I am reading on my own."
    _____"That can't possibly be math. I don't see a single number."
    _____"Yes, well, it is math, I assure you."
    _____"What are those?"
    _____"What in God's name is an isomorphism?"
    _____"Mom, are you going to give this guy my pictures or not?"
    _____"When I have time," her mother evasively replied.
    _____"And you really think they will help?"
    _____"They will certainly help. Now buzz off, and do your homework, or whatever it is you're doing."
    _____"Fine. Love you. Good night."
    _____Each evening, Jessica dressed only in the threadbare cutoff tee shirt that she liked to wear on hot summer nights. She would carefully, surreptitiously scootch up to her headboard, and take her time doing so, since her entire bed squeaked with the slightest movement. She would lean against the knotty pine headboard, against the peeling paint, and alternate between gazing at Dr. Spencer's picture and reading the note that he had penned upon the back. She had memorized it back on Monday night, of course, but nevertheless she liked to imagine herself reading it for the first time.
    _____The note struck her as rather crass and rude, having been conveyed from one stranger to another, and what was more, from one strange older man to an unknown young woman and daughter of said stranger's secretary. Yet Jessica found the note somehow endearing, too, as though the handsome, intelligent stranger had intentionally committed the rude act, expressly to excite her. The note, and the photocopied portrait upon which it had been penned, most certainly did excite her. She could understand, on a rational level, that his real intent had been more to titillate and entertain her, than to court her, because despite her mother's insistent exhortations to the contrary, Jessica knew that Dr. Nelson Spencer really had to be attracted to Mom, and was just using Jessica as an entrée, to maintain open lines of communication, so as to facilitate the slowly building courtship. And the tactic seemed to be working, because Mom appeared to be utterly, dangerously smitten. Extreme measures seemed to be in order after all; how else should a distinguished older gentleman isolate, woo, and acquire a married mother of two, a woman living in the house of her father-in-law, a woman essentially sequestered for her entire adult life? This strange gentleman played a dangerous game indeed, and he needed every weapon at his disposal. Whether his arcane stratagems would succeed or fail, Jessica had no means to adjudicate. She wished him luck, on Mom's behalf. Yet at the same time, Jessica tried to imagine herself in her mother's predicament, all grown up, laden with dirty laundry and so utterly dependent on the largesse of others, so completely helpless. This would not happen to her. Somehow, she would escape this place, and all the lurking denizens of her decrepit neighborhood, and dodge her mother's fate.
    _____She recited the note again, whilst gazing up at the photograph of Dr. Spencer, as she hugged her pillow, and imagined different words, still addressed to her, yet words of tenderness, written with care: not the sort of crass note that a rogue would write to a trollop's daughter, but the kind of letter that a distinguished and desirable gentleman would pen to the woman he loved. Would Jessica ever receive such a letter? She could not say, and would not hope, but she did enjoy imagining. Jessica had accumulated marginally better material for her dreams, now, but she knew that plenty of room for improvement remained.
    _____Jessica awoke at three in the morning, after hours of fitful, unsuccessful attempts to dream. She put on a bathrobe to ward off the chill, found a clean piece of construction paper, and started a note. Should she pen it in her own hand, using her own words, the words she longed to write to the refined, handsome, intelligent gentleman who watched diffidently from her headboard? Would such a missive encourage him to reciprocate, or scare him away? Or, would he be more effectively encouraged if she conveyed herself as a brainless nit, flattered by the crass little note that he had scrawled on the back of an impersonal photocopy? Did Dr. Spencer's attentions portend a yearning for a young woman to love, or just the implicit promise of a package deal, a set of bookends dressed up as wallflowers, a naive and impressionable virgin to complement the lusty secretary-slash-whore? Jessica had no experience to go on, but she did know that she didn't care about the substance of his note, so much as holding his interest— any kind of interest at all. He could write whatever he wanted, no matter how base and prurient, as long as she could induce him write to her in some fashion. She certainly would have preferred a love letter. Someday, from the right gentleman, she might receive love letters. But for the time being, Dr. Spencer's naughty little note would have to suffice. Years or months or weeks hence, she and Colleen would dig it out, and reread it, and have a good laugh at Dr. Spencer's expense, because, when it came right down to it, given the gentleman's evidently prurient attractions, and his predilection for presenting complete strangers with underwear, and his penchant for writing audacious, vulgar little notes, he really did strike her as being rather sophomoric, the stereotypical son of the owner, a product of nepotism, the arrogant and self-possessed idiot thrust into a position of power by dint of his birth, like so many idiots throughout history, and she found the idiot and the erudite industrialist impossible to reconcile. Well, he would just have to remain a most beguiling and bedeviling conundrum, because she could not, in the furthest reaches of her imagination, conceive of a way in which she would ever be given a chance to meet him and to solve the puzzle of Dr. Nelson Spencer by empirical means.
    _____She sighed, set her feathered pen to the somewhat wrinkled, somewhat clean construction paper, stopped thinking, and started to write. Despite her conscious effort to keep the tone light, her irrepressible imagination betrayed her, and the pen dragged her hand back and forth through autonomic cursives like a slender planchette, tracing and elucidating the core essence of her soul. Somnolence took her long before the end, but the hand and pen labored on, from sheer momentum, and drifted to a stop minutes after she had closed her eyes.
    _____She dozed with her face on the half-written letter, woke up just before dawn, picked her chin up off construction paper that had become soggy with drool, cringed at the maudlin tripe she had written hours before, and tore it up into confetti sized bits.
    _____Once again, this time possessed of lucidity, she resolved to set her own feelings and soul aside. She should be reasonable, after all, and remember her station in life. Dr. Spencer evidently had a thing for her mother, in defiance of all likelihood. Jessica would subjugate herself shamefully for Mom, if there was any chance that doing so might somehow aid Mom's cause, but for Jessica herself this opportunity meant nothing. A distraction, an idle entertainment, nothing more. She still had to study hard, and live her life, and extricate herself from this purgatory as soon as possible. She stalked to her dresser, which doubled as a desk, snatched up another sheet of construction paper, quickly scrawled out an entirely different kind of note, folded it up, scotch-taped it, and gave it to her mother, with the simple instructions, "Here, Mom, a thank you note, for the new clothes. To go in the CD."
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  25. #25
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. l

    _____On Monday morning, very first thing, Carol presented Dr. Nelson Spencer with the jewel case-enclosed product of the photo shoot that she had conducted with her daughter almost a week ago.
    _____"We took a great many," Carol explained, "and I simply can't decide. You know best, sir, what you like, so I'll just leave it to you. If you find one that's suitable for framing, just let me know. Otherwise we'll go back to the drawing board."
    _____He thanked the woman laconically, called the receptionist, and told her to hold all calls. The receptionist asked him if that meant canceling all Correction Day appointments as well, and he snarled, "It damn well does."
    _____So, Carol had Dr. Nelson Spencer all to herself, for the first time, on Correction Day. This perhaps overstated things, because he gave the entirety of his attention to Jessica's digital photo album. Not that Carol minded in the least. By ten o'clock, Carol convinced herself that he had wandered down a path from whence he might never emerge.
    Nevertheless, he was interrupted mid-morning by a call to his private cell phone.
    _____Carol, in the office at the time, glared at her computer screen. Though she could hear only one side of the conversation, she knew the caller had to have been some goddamned furniture girl.
    _____Dr. Spencer responded curtly and coldly to the caller, and not ten seconds passed before he abruptly hung up. He cursed under his breath and returned to Jessica's photographs, as though there had been no interruption.
    _____Carol sighed with relief.
    _____Then, two minutes later, he cursed again when his cell phone beeped. Dr. Spencer snatched up the phone.
    _____The persistent little interloper had to be texting him.
    _____Carol fumed with redoubled resentment, because she had a pretty good idea who had to be calling: that blonde tart from last week, Mr. Stanley Ableton's not-quite-eighteen year old granddaughter, the high school senior who had been afraid of being knocked up. Laura was her name, and she had to be calling and texting him from school, most likely from a classroom desk. Whatever the subject, it could not possibly bode well for Jessica's cause. Either Dr. Spencer had officially tagged Laura Ableton, and she was accusing him of siring the bastard, or she had not come down with the dreaded nine month affliction after all, and having had a few days to get over her period, she now wanted to celebrate the happy lack of occasion. Carol supposed she couldn't blame the girl. A blonde, blue-eyed, C-cup hottie like Laura Ableton had to have boyfriends on each arm, but even a tender innocent, such as she, already had to know that a man such as Dr. Spencer had to be one in a million.

    _____Good news, Dr Spencer, Im not preggers after all.
    _____Told u, worrywort.
    _____Yeah, well, Im a girl, its my job 2 worry. But still what a relief. Found out Friday morning, happy ever since. Nvr that late b4. Phew.
    _____Im happy 4 u.
    _____Kind of miss u even though u really hurt me last time.
    _____Didnt mean 2.
    _____u were so rough & then u came right in me even though I was fertile, omg.
    _____Couldnt help it couldnt resist.
    _____Well like I said I'm not pregs after all & I really miss u.
    _____What are u saying Laura?
    _____Can I see u again, I mean, not now, umm
    _____Can u come over 2day?
    _____What 2 your school? r u fucking nuts?
    _____I have a plan. Im in xcountry & we practice in the woods, I can fall back with cramps & x thru the woods to the back of the parking lot & then we can meet up.
    _____In woods that r full of kids running around.
    _____No there r good places 2 hide, off the trails.
    _____Places your boyfriends have shown u, so theyre not such good hiding places.
    _____uh uh, places Ive found, u know, when I need umm time 4 myself.
    _____So you want 2 go off into the woods & pretend a tall dark mans taken u out 2 rape u while u rub your little clitty?
    _____Oh god this is so embarrassing, forget it!
    _____No, no it sounds really sexy.
    _____Then stop making fun of me.
    _____Not making fun, just finding out what u like. U like it rough, already know that, & pretending u dont want it.
    _____Yes omg
    _____And u like getting raped in the woods...
    _____Not 4 real, I just like thinking about it.
    _____& I could help u there. U could leave a marker @ the end of the parking lot, & just point some sticks as u go & hide, & find a good hiding place and strip down naked & I'll come find you.
    _____omg u would do that???
    _____Will take hours 2 find u & you'll have 2 wait naked & blindfolded the whole time.
    _____omg omfg
    _____U could even tie your hands 2 a branch after u blindfold urself, or maybe just one hand so u can play with urself while u wait, & anyone could find u, if your hiding place isnt good enough—your teammates, even a complete stranger passing thru, u could be raped by anyone if I don't find u....
    _____Oh god omg ok I'll do it but u just have 2 promise u won't fuck me 2 hard
    _____I promise
    _____Really mr I still ache from last time, your 2 big!
    _____I could put it up past your bellybutton if I really wanted to do it hard.
    _____omfg, dont, u have 2 promise!!!
    _____I promise. But I'll bring some lube for your sex holes just in case.
    _____Omg I cant believe this, I shouldnt let u do this!
    _____Do what? your just going 2 xcountry practice, & your gonna get lost on the trail, & a stranger's going 2 have his way with u & there's nothing youll be able 2 do about it...
    _____Oh god ok, ok, gotta go, Im in class & I gotta go or Im gonna cum right here!

    _____He terminated the text session without comment. Then he returned to his previous task of poring over the photographs of Jessica, the electronic photo album that Mrs. Turner had prepared, presumably over the weekend.
    _____In the first shots, Jessica sat primly upon a couch, wearing her school uniform, the same white and pastel polka dot outfit that she had worn for her first day back to school. Nelson did not suppose for a second that the reprise of that outfit could have been coincidence. Jessica smiled demurely for the camera with her slender legs crossed and hands upon her lap.
    _____She did not look any older in the new photographs.
    _____Jessica's new portraits did, however, further captivate him with her beauty, which became a problem for him, almost immediately. He had to control himself, and pretend to work, while he contemplated the vision upon his computer monitor, and while the mother of that same vision worked in the same room, not ten feet away.
    _____For more than a week, Nelson had been struggling to depersonalize the Turner girl, to diminish her to the status of an object, as he had succeeded in doing with Laura Ableton, and with Vanessa Curtis, and indeed, with every woman he had taken since Wendy Rosenthal, his college sweetheart, more than five years ago.
    _____He devoted several minutes to the inspection of each shot, and the poses became progressively more risqué with each new photograph. Yet even when he lingered on a shot of Jessica posing for him on her knees and elbows, with her lean slender bottom up in the air and the pastel skirt pulled tightly around her flanks, the revelation somehow failed to diminish her state of grace.
    _____All the while, as he studied the photographs and ever so gradually advanced them, he could hear the mother at her work table— the very same woman who had taken the snaps, burned the CD, and handed it to him. She seethed, huffed and puffed. He supposed that she must have been suffering belated moral qualms, and was now irritated by the way her daughter's photographs had so thoroughly engrossed and transfixed him.
    _____He could not have been more wrong.
    _____Carol was furious, utterly outraged, that the blonde tart, Laura Ableton, had the temerity to text him from school and undermine the entire plan. It was almost as though the Ableton girl could somehow have known, from across town, that Carol had played her one and only ace that morning. Carol struggled with different ways of regaining the advantage and repeatedly came up empty.
    _____Finally, at around eleven thirty, Carol snatched up her bag and stormed out of the office, in the vain hope that fresh air would clear her head and allow her to conjure a tenable solution for Jessica.
    _____Nelson Spencer registered the embittered expression of his administrative assistant as she stalked out, but he was oblivious, and in mere moments he lost interest as to the possible cause. Finally he had the office to himself, and could study Jessica's photo album with a modicum of privacy.
    _____Nelson did not reach the bedroom shots, for which Jessica had posed in the lacy nothing of a thong, until almost noon.
    _____By the time Nelson reached the fourth bedroom shot, in which Jessica posed with her back to the camera, wearing nothing but a flimsy lace thong panty, he had unbuttoned his trousers, and dropped his fly. The trousers lay crumpled around his ankles. He leaned right over his desk, his spine bent by fatigue. One hand operated the slide show's cursor. The other hand worked autonomically, at constant odds with the man's embattled will, as he struggled to marshal a semblance of self-control.
    _____He could no longer be sure that he had been left alone in the office. On some plane, the mother remained and judged him, like an omnipresent and omniscient goddess who lingered over the shoulder of an adolescent boy to witness his submission to onanistic compulsion, a vindictive sprite whose lips curled with dark humor as she etched yet another black mark upon the hapless lad's soul. On another level, Mrs. Turner lay spreadeagled across his desk, her skirt tucked up around her waist, to be harshly disciplined for whoring her teenaged daughter. Dr. Spencer berated and belittled the audacious and impudent matchmaker as he meted out the blows with his looped belt. He did not know what he wanted and needed more: the mother's absence; or her submission to chastisement for her incredible presumption; or perhaps he most craved to be witnessed by the omniscient adjudicator who lingered over his shoulder and reminded him, with devious whispers, of his own ridiculousness. His self-manipulation had brought him to the brink of climax repeatedly since he had first delved into the diabolical photo album that morning, and now the bedroom shots, of Jessica better described naked than clothed, induced such intense pressure for release that he labored under physical and psychological pain. He wanted, needed, craved orgasmic release, yet he also wanted to save himself for Laura Ableton— or Jessica Turner— or, well hell, it had all become very confusing.
    _____In truth, he did not know what he wanted. He had been storing himself up all weekend— for what, he could not have said— probably just on the meager and distinctly pathetic hope that Carol Turner would make good on her pledge to produce a new portrait of her daughter. Now she had delivered to lavish excess, having encumbered his hands with a veritable treasure trove, a CD containing more than a hundred pictures of the young woman posing specifically for him, and he didn't know where things would go from there. He knew that he could very well lose himself in the endlessly rich subtlety and nuance of those photographs, and devolve to base savagery, and abandon the mundane imperatives of the world by regressing to nothing more than a beast, with no effort whatsoever.
    _____Yet the pictures offered no resolution to the essential question of Jessica Turner's availability. These photographs, presumably taken just a few days ago, shed no light on her age. Certainly she looked no older in the new shots than in the representation imparted by her framed back-to-school portrait. In that narrow sense the photographs on the CD failed, but they failed on another, more fundamental level. The pictures failed to depersonalize Miss Jessica Turner, failed to reduce her to the status of an object. If anything Jessica Turner stormed his gates, and assaulted his bastions all the more powerfully, and stood over him with a superior, gloating smirk, as he succumbed to his burgeoning obsession.
    _____And now, to compound matters, Laura Ableton had texted him to beg for a rendezvous that afternoon, in the woods, where she would tie herself up naked and wait for him. He did want to meet Laura that afternoon, and he did not know how he felt about that.
    _____For that matter, he could not rationally discern the contours and extent of his obsession for Jessica Turner. He did know that he had to struggle inordinately hard to maintain the fantasy that the young woman's mother, Mrs. Carol Turner had never left the room, and now suffered beneath him, for the sake of her daughter, the audaciously crass matchmaker. All the while, through his self-administered torture, his hands worked frenetically: on the mother's writhing body, and on the keyboard's cursor, and on himself. Yet each time he permitted his eyes to linger on the digital photographs of Jessica posing for him, spreading for him, naked and willing, offering herself for sacrifice, his attention flashed, albeit unwillingly, back to the portrait upon the mother's work table: the simple eight-by-ten representation of the girl, outfitted in her best dress and beaming, looking forward to her first day back to school. He found himself attracted not to the desperate, over-reaching tart who posed naked in a straddle, but to the swift, intelligent youngster standing at the bus stop with friends and looking forward to her future. He found it impossible to negate the beautiful person who watched him from within the silver frame. He had tried all weekend, on the impetus of the memory alone, to no avail. Now, in the presence of that vision and its insidious assault, he had no chance whatsoever of prevailing.
    _____Nelson Spencer needed this afternoon with Laura. He needed it badly. Not only to relieve more than a week of self-imposed abstinence, but to eradicate the accursed Turner girl from his head. A futile endeavor, perhaps. And what could that possibly mean?
    _____He had brought himself to the proximity of climax so many times that his cloying musk filled the air. He wrenched himself back one last time, and gripped his desk with two fists, right where he had imagined that Mrs. Carol Turner had been suffering for her crimes all the while.
    _____That was when he noticed the edge of pale blue construction paper peeking out from between the folds of the nondescript white label inside the CD jewel case. He used his fingernails to pluck the note out from under the jewel case label.
    _____The top of the pale blue note bore two words:

    __________Thank You!

    _____Dr. Nelson Spencer's mouth fell open. Thank you for what?
    _____He unfolded the note, flattened it, set it upon the desk, and held his breath. He had given this girl the most appalling gifts. First a picture of himself, backed by an incriminating hand printed note. Then he vaguely recalled having given the mother money for presents. He could not recall whether or not it had really happened, but he strongly suspected that he had not imagined it. Either he had remitted the contents of the petty cash box to Jessica's mother last week, or someone had robbed his office.
    _____To what use had the mother put that money, to motivate the daughter for her photo shoot? Glancing up again at the vision of Jessica wearing nothing but a lace negligée panty, a horrifying possibility coalesced in his mind.
    _____What if the mother had used the money to purchase the flimsy lace that the teen had modeled for the photo album? How would she have reacted to receiving such gifts from a complete stranger? The mother had insisted, on several occasions, that men already plied for her affections (no surprise, given her evident beauty); that she was mature for her age; that she possessed above-average intelligence, and purportedly valued intelligence over all else. How would Jessica have received his depraved gifts? The perversity of his thoughts and acts threw his mind into turmoil, now he stared unseeing at the note that the girl had written, the note that surely screamed her denunciation and condemnation. 'Stay away from me, pig,' he imagined the note to say, 'and stay away from my mother, too, or I will take those fucking panties straight to the police. Maybe my mother made me pose for you, and maybe I love her, but this has gone too far, and much as I hate to do it, I will take her down with you, even if it means the break-up of my family. You're sick, and you won't hurt me; I will ruin you, first.'
    _____His hands shook as he opened the note.

    __________Dear Dr. Spencer,
    _____Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the beautiful presents! I modeled them straight away, as I am sure you know by now. My cousin Colleen helped me with the outfits, and Mom ran the shutter. I hope you like all the pictures. Can you guess which pair of panties I like the best?? My favorites are the naughtiest ones (wink), of course. The others are appreciated, too, as I will need them for ordinary days. But the naughty ones I am holding in reserve, especially for you!!
    _____As you know (or are about to find out), I have put a couple of the naughty ones to use already, just for you. I hope you like my pictures. Mom says you find me pretty and sexy, for whatever reason. Frankly when she told me this I was skeptical, but your pretty prezzies certainly lend credibility to the claim. You also know (or soon will) that I have posed nude at the end. Mom did not want to shoot me naked, but I insisted, so please do not be cross with her, for my indiscretions. Mom had severe misgivings about taking those, but less is more, and one should accentuate the positives, such as they are.
    _____Additionally, thank you for your picture, and for the note. I have hung it on my headboard, where I can admire it at all times. You can send me more if you want. If you do, I will pin them up beside the first.
    _____Thank you again for all my new panties and bras. I hope you really like me, because if you do, Mom says you could come over, and I could model them for you in person. You could personally dress and pose me however you wish.
    __________Jessica Turner

    _____He blinked, and gripped the desk with vertigo. This note, he could not be imagining. His worst suspicions had been trumped by reality. The girl's execrable mother had used the money to purchase lingerie, and had foisted it off on the daughter as a gift from himself.
    _____Could the girl have written this note? He reread it several times. The penmanship was meticulously neat, clearly not the product of the mother's hand. The penned cursives looked almost as though Jessica Turner had carefully drawn every letter with a concerted effort to impress. Could the girl have been taking dictation, or could she have come up with the letter on her own? And could she really have been inviting him to visit?
    _____Taken as assumed, for the moment, the notion that Jessica Turner really could have written the note all on her own, what would that mean? The mother had professed the daughter's intelligence, and at the time he had reminded himself, perhaps uncharitably, that he should first consider the source. From Carol Turner, a woman who had made nothing but bad choices throughout her life, that assessment had come as faint praise. But taken as assumed, also, that the daughter at least possessed rudimentary intelligence, one would have to conclude that the danger and perversity of his infatuation would not have been lost on her. Yet Jessica had received the gifts with apparent gratitude, and had sportingly posed for him, wearing a broad toothy smile and not much else. And she had made the effort to pen a thank you letter. These facts, taken in summation, could only mean, assuming that she had written the letter on her own, that she had intentionally written exactly what she believed he would want to hear. He had expressed his interest, in the vilest, most childish manner possible, and she had returned the sentiment in kind, using the same vulgar lexicon, and had invited him in.
    _____Why on earth would she have done that?
    _____The quandary so thoroughly embroiled him that his ability to fantasize had dissipated entirely. The mother no longer lay bound to his desk. Now he sat, all alone in his office, with nothing but the real for company: the CD in his computer, the jewel case upon his desk, the fateful note upon his blotter, carefully drawn upon blue construction paper, and the silver-framed eight-by-ten portrait, upon the table across the room, from which a beautiful, beaming Jessica Turner awaited her school bus, dressed in her best for her first day back to school, and watched him. Judgmentally.
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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    Default Chapter 3: Matchmaker, Pt. m

    _____He read the note for the fifth time when Mrs. Carol Turner abruptly opened the door, strode into the room, and walked straight to her work table, lips set in a thin line, without looking at him.
    _____He called from across the room, addressing the back of her head, "What does she mean when she says I can come over?"
    _____She turned, brow furrowed with confusion. Then her perplexed expression cleared, and she muttered, "Oh, the note in the jacket. It means whatever you want it to mean."
    _____"She is inviting me over," he repeated. "She is not clear as to why."
    _____The woman replied, "I haven't read it. That note is Jessica's business, not mine. But I would submit that she doesn't know what she's offering. She is new to this sort of thing. If I know her, and I think I do, I suppose she would like to meet you."
    _____The woman sighed, "What's wrong, sir?"
    _____He said, "She doesn't know the first thing about me. How could she want that? She's a high school kid."
    _____Carol answered simply, "I suspect she doesn't know what she wants, except to meet you for real. She is an over-sexed girl and mature for her age, as I've said before. If I had to guess, I would say she must be flattered that a handsome gentleman like you would buy underwear just for her." She added this last jab like a knife thrust.
    _____"Did I, really?" he coldly demanded. "She has thanked me for the lingerie. She apparently believes I have bought it for her."
    _____Carol Turner stared straight at her wall, with her back to the man, and rolled her eyes. "Sir, I imagine an older, more experienced, more refined woman would take offense by the, uh, particulars of your attentions. But Jessica is, as you have so delicately pointed out, just 'a high school kid.' She doesn't have much experience to draw upon. For all she knows, being presented with thong panties could be just another somewhat strange, yet essentially normal, courting ritual between men and women. Anyway, beyond just meeting you I don't suppose she wants anything in particular."
    _____He gruffly remarked, "Well, I'll think about it." He tried to go back to the pictures, but within thirty seconds he ejected the CD and jammed it roughly into the jewel case without a thought as to whether he might have damaged it. He punched the computer's power button with a knuckle, and thrust the note into his breast pocket. He abruptly stood. He tossed the jewel case and several file folders into his briefcase.
    _____Carol ignored his petulant fit.
    _____He stalked toward the door, and stopped to announce, "I will probably be out for the rest of the afternoon, Mrs. Turner, so call it a day at whatever time suits you."
    _____Carol slammed a sheaf of paper down on her work table, and cursed under her breath, but would not elaborate. He guessed that she had to be infuriated either by his obsession with her daughter, or by his obvious intention to meet up with Laura Ableton, or both. Whatever Mrs. Turner's motivations for her current apoplexy, he had far too much on his mind to deal with her right now. And he had to get out to the cross country route, so he could catch Laura Ableton, or he would be searching all night in a forty square mile wooded park. He might not find the dizzy blonde for days.
    _____Carol snarled, "If anyone asks where you are, what shall I say?"
    _____He coldly repeated, "I have told you: say I am out for the rest of the afternoon."
    _____Carol swore under her breath as he walked out.


    _____Nelson Spencer drove west of the city, out into the suburbs, and parked in the lot that opened into the woods wherein the local high school cross-country team practiced. On the way there, he had stopped by a discount plaza to pick up a change of dark clothes; a cheap pair of running shoes, and a tube of lubricant. Despite the unplanned shopping excursion, he arrived at the parking lot with plenty of time to spare. Too much time, actually.
    _____He got out of his car, stepped into the woods, and chose a vantage point from which he would be able to watch the trail that passed in proximity to the back of the lot. He would watch her pass, so that she would be easy to find.
    _____He looked up into the sky ruefully. Completely gray, and overcast. Mist condensed on his skin in the cool air, and beaded into droplets. Laura would not appreciate being rained upon. Her impending ordeal, naked and tied up out in the woods, would be bad enough for her without rain.
    _____He thought about Jessica Turner. Hell, he had been thinking about her non-stop. The photo album on the CD should have succeeded in depersonalizing her. It definitely contained ample raw material for that simple task. Yet the pictures had not achieved the desired effect.
    _____He couldn't stop himself from obsessing over what she must have been thinking about him. He reflected also on her intense and almost overwhelming sex appeal, and how much he wanted her, and he had to remind himself repeatedly that she could not possibly be more than eighteen years old. Given her fresh, youthful complexion, she could well have been much younger than eighteen. Yet he wanted much more than his base instincts would accommodate: more than merely to trade her for Laura Ableton this afternoon, and to take her into the woods, and to ravish her. A far stronger compulsion drove him: he wanted to know her. And that had to be bad. He felt reasonably certain that he had the strength to resist his physically driven compulsion to merely possess the girl. Yet he doubted his strength to resist the far more compelling drive to know her, and he understood that the girl's mother, for whatever reasons of her own, seemed to be hell-bent on doing everything in her power to encourage their meeting.
    _____Nelson Spencer had thought that he had chosen and hired nothing more than a rather simple, yet motivated and industrious worker. He had been wrong by a mile. He had invited, right into his midst, the mother of his preordained obsession. He had welcomed, into his office and his life, a Trojan horse, a combination of diabolical matchmaker and devil incarnate.
    _____As though on cue, his phone beeped. The call hailed from his own office. He cursed and pressed Talk. "Mrs. Turner, I am in a very important meeting, and you had better have an equally important reason for interrupting me."
    _____There was a short pause, and then Carol replied, "Umm, okay sir. It's just, uhhh...."
    _____He harshly murmured, "Spit it out, Mrs. Turner."
    _____She rushed, "Sir, all I have to say is, uhh, that you can have better."
    _____"Better than what?" he coldly demanded, though of course he knew exactly where she was headed. Of course, he did. Nelson had to admire how she had shrewdly deduced his true plan for the afternoon— or at least the basics of it: to hook up with Laura Ableton and achieve a temporary, fleeting banishment of his obsession for the woman's daughter.
    _____He should have known, after the presentation of the CD that morning, that Mrs. Turner would not allow this liaison without a fight.
    _____Carol Turner meekly said, "Sir, you can have better than, umm, well, whoever you're meeting this afternoon. You can do better. You know. Better than, umm, just a photo album, and well, that's all I'm trying to say."
    _____His tone softened now, because he realized that this woman had nailed his deepest desire, and whatever her motivations might have been, he surely had to appreciate the enormity of the proposition that had just spilled from Mrs. Turner's lips. She had just subjugated herself to him, by offering her very own daughter, for whatever reasons.
    _____"Mrs. Turner," he said, "you are my hired help. Your daughter, Jessica, is not. She is an articulate and evidently intelligent young woman. I would not regard her as an instrument for furthering your career, if I were you."
    _____Now Carol Turner, rather than being humbled by his rebuke, had her turn to sound affronted. "Sir, with all due respect, Jessica is her own person, and she is very much taken with you. I just thought you should know that she fancies you, so that you are fully informed of your options. That was my only intention."
    _____He considered this and decided that she sounded sincere. He quietly said, "You are right, Mrs. Turner, that I am attracted to your daughter. I do not deny it. But I certainly do not regard her as another 'option,' as you call it."
    _____Carol said, almost beseechingly, "But you could, sir. That is what I am saying. Jessi likes you very much and would be delighted to meet you."
    _____Nelson huffed, "Perhaps, Mrs. Turner. But to what end? I am twenty-six years old. Your daughter is— how old? I know nothing about her; not even that." With a sickly lurch of his stomach he suddenly realized how deeply he had obsessed over the question of her age; the teenager looked too young to be a senior. "Exactly how old is she, anyway? She is at least in high school, surely?"
    _____"Yes, sir, of course she is," the mother laconically replied.
    _____"Mrs. Turner, I have been out of graduate school for two years. What could meeting her possibly accomplish?"
    _____"Who knows? Maybe nothing. Then again, you could hit it off."
    _____"Mrs. Turner. Her life has not yet begun. How could we 'hit it off?' What could that possibly mean?"
    _____Carol Turner enigmatically said, "That would be entirely up to the two of you."
    _____ He scoffed, "I sincerely doubt that. You won't even give me a straight answer as to how old she is. Is she old enough to date? What, for instance, would her father say?"
    _____Carol fumed to herself before answering. So it came to that. The obvious answer was that it didn't make a damned bit of difference what the worthless son of a bitch would say. "Sir, I admit Billy didn't approve of my taking those pictures, and he doesn't even know about the most, umm, racy ones. But he does accept that Jessica is her own person and can make her own choices. While he might have a problem at first with your coming around— chaperoned, of course— the point is I am sure that in the end he would rather see Jessica with someone mature and responsible, than fooling around with some neighborhood boy while we're both at work. What I am saying, sir, is that I am certain I could convince Billy that you would be a positive influence for Jessica. If, that is, the two of you were to strike up a friendship."
    _____He thought about this. Mrs. Turner had just offered the most twisted proposal he had ever heard. Compounded on this observation was his realization that this purported phone conversation could in fact have been just another manifestation of his collapse into dementia. He wanted to scream at the sky, but he had to hold it together. In his desperation, he reverted from the boss persona and used her name for the very first time ever. "Carol, I am sorry to keep coming back to the essential point, but you appear not to be listening. I am a grown man with adult needs, and your daughter is clearly underaged."
    _____"Sir, I am well aware of that."
    _____"Then... what could you... what are you....."
    _____"Sir, she already has boyfriends. They start much younger than we did."
    _____He harshly admonished, "Mrs. Turner, you have shrewdly deduced that I have escaped the office this afternoon to screw the hell out of Stan Ableton's granddaughter again. If I had not come here for Laura, it would have been Vanessa Curtis, or Sara Rice, or one of the others. I may not be proud of these carnal needs of mine, but nor can I deny them. How do you propose your daughter would take their place?"
    _____Carol slowly reasoned aloud, "Sir, I am only suggesting you get to know her and see where it leads, and if you really liked her you could wait for her."
    _____"What? Wait? For how many years?"
    _____ Carol retorted, "Well, a couple years, anyway, I would hope. Yet there again, how long you had to wait would ultimately be up to Jess and no one else. And in the meantime, she is an intelligent, imaginative, resourceful young woman. I am sure she could find other ways to, umm, satisfy you."
    _____He sardonically replied, "And your husband would have no problem with that, I suppose? With a high school aged girl, dating and uh, satisfying a twenty-six year old man?"
    _____Carol diffidently replied, "Jessica has twice her father's maturity."
    _____Nelson glowered at the trees, and rubbed his forehead, and snarled, "Okay. Just to humor you: let's say I wanted to— how did you say it— get to know Jessica better. You've obviously made this call with some plan in mind. What do you propose?"
    _____"You could come to the house this afternoon, and meet Jessica under my supervision. Just spend some time with her. Talk to her. Ask her about her day. Typically, when she comes home, she takes her time changing, does her gym calisthenics, and then spends the rest of the afternoon on homework."
    _____"So I could take an afternoon off, and help your daughter out with her homework? I am to be what, her private tutor? You are painting a scenario that sounds like bad porn."
    _____"Sir, I'm sorry. Maybe this is a big mistake—"
    _____"It is a mistake, Carol. This is madness."
    _____Carol had no answer for that denunciation. He heard nothing but her breath on the line. Apparently they agreed on one point.
    _____"Fine," he snapped, "assuming I'll do it, where is your husband in all of this?"
    _____She laughed shortly and said, "The night shift. Well, actually his shift doesn't start until after dinner, but he has to get drunk first. On workdays, he's seldom ever around when the kids come from school. You could visit Jessica from three thirty to five thirty, when her grandfather comes home. He lives upstairs, you see."
    _____Nelson breathed hard, and heard himself say, "Okay. I will think about it. If I'm there, I'm there. Otherwise I will see you tomorrow, and we will never discuss this again."
    _____Her silence seeped back across the connection with all the force of a bellowed retort. But after several seconds she muttered, "Fine, sir. I hope to see you soon. I'll go home to meet her off the bus."
    _____Nelson hung up, and took all of ten heartbeats to make his decision. He texted Laura. She responded in seconds.

    _____Dr S, Im in the locker room changing 4 my workout. Ive been so hot all day. Im not wearing panties.
    _____Thats hot alright.
    _____Oh god omg I need u so bad. Why are u calling your still coming right? please tell me??? your still coming?
    _____Somethings come up.
    _____I cant do it. Meeting all afternoon.
    _____Shit u cant cancel!
    _____Cant do it sorry
    _____U cant ditch me! You cant! Fuck!
    _____Sorry cant do it bye

    End of Chapter 3. I could say a lot here, but no spoilers. Onward and upward. More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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    I suspect unlike Dr. Nelson Spenser, it will not be possible to finish this de-trashified Nascent by 1am but please give us some more tonight anyway.

    p.s. The ambiguity on Jessica's age is working for me.
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  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by tbear99999 View Post
    I suspect unlike Dr. Nelson Spenser, it will not be possible to finish this de-trashified Nascent by 1am but please give us some more tonight anyway.

    p.s. The ambiguity on Jessica's age is working for me.

    Coming right up!

    On the age ambiguity - thanks! I worked hard at that.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  29. #29
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    Default Chapter 4: Tutor, Pt. a

    Chapter 4: Tutor

    _____Laura would be a problem.
    _____Nelson had disabled the phone before she could mete out the full onslaught of her rage. She would have the last word, sooner or later. In the meantime, she would vent to her grandfather. Stanley would call Pop, who would commiserate with Mom, who would urge him to mend the fence somehow. Nelson wondered whether he would earn any points for having absolved Laura of having to wait out in the woods from late afternoon to early evening, naked and shivering, soaked to the skin, blindfolded in pitch dark. He forced himself to envision Laura bound to a tree, her teeth chattering in the cold drizzle, and with effort, he could convince himself that she would have deserved it, for flaunting herself, and that Stan deserved that fate for his granddaughter, in return for the way he had brazenly whored her out just to advance his automation consultancy contract.
    _____Encumbered with the enticing yet troubling vision of Laura waiting naked in the woods, he hit the road to head toward the Turner triple decker, but long before he reached their ramshackle flat, young Jessica Turner imposed herself on his mind again, which served only to exacerbate his discomfort over having ventured from his office at all. He should have sequestered himself. He should never have left. This errand, on which he found himself, he could attribute only to madness. He had denounced the whole scheme over the phone, yet here he drove, down Route Sixteen East, from Newtonville to Everett, headlong toward his fate. Crazy, dangerous, insane. He reversed direction several times on the way, and repeatedly changed his mind.
    _____With sickening inevitability, he turned onto their street at about ten past three, which meant Jessica Turner had not yet come home from school. He thought about waiting in the car, at the end of the street, to watch her come off the school bus, but he decided against this course of action. For some reason, which he could not have explained, he wanted this to go well, and the damning thing about it was that he could not have articulated what that meant, because he didn't really know what he wanted from the girl. Sure, he felt a strong, nearly uncontrollable physical attraction, but he did not want her the way he had wanted Laura that morning— and even this difference both intrigued and distressed him: that he now regarded Laura Ableton in the past tense.
    _____Nelson did know this: that having struggled, for more than a week, to depersonalize Jessica Turner and relegate her to the status of an object, he finally conceded defeat. He would endeavor to know her, as a person, instead; to what end, he found himself at a loss to explain. The tempestuousness of his conflicting emotions left him feeling helplessly debilitated, like an insect trapped in the descending water of a drain.
    _____The cold air and drizzle persisted. He felt patters of larger droplets upon his head and hands. Laura Ableton would not have been happy at all, if she had been waiting out in the woods, twenty miles west, to be rained upon all the while. He did not think for a moment that she would see it that way.
    _____He might not have been able to articulate what he wanted from Jessica, but he did vaguely recognize that he desired, at the very least, to gain her provisional trust, to whatever end that accomplishment might serve in the future. He conceded that even that modest objective, in and of itself, might be unattainable, now that she had posed for the pictures, no doubt under coercive pressure from the mother, the pictures that he now had in his possession, on the CD. On a whim, he grabbed his brief case and the photo album that it contained. He trudged up the steps with more ambivalence and circumspection than he had ever felt in his life, took a deep breath, and rang the doorbell.
    _____Carol veritably leapt down a flight of stairs to greet him at the door, and brightly said, taking his hands to lead him in, "I'm so glad you've decided to come, sir."
    _____He muttered, "In the end I realized that I couldn't refuse."
    _____She clutched her breast and averred, "Oh yes, you could have. Coming here is brave. There is no other word for it, under the circumstances. I'm so glad you did. Believe me, I can barely imagine what it took, for you to be here."
    _____"It is nothing, Mrs. Turner."
    _____"Oh, no it's not. Call me crazy, but I think that somehow this could all turn out well. Now, Jessi's not home yet, which is all to the better; you can meet her when she comes in. I think you will be pleased by the way she's dressed for school today." She heard her grasping, over-reaching words, flushed red, and suddenly recalled a dozen tasks in the kitchen. She fled all of ten feet, just to impose some distance between them.
    _____He looked around the dim hallway at the little rooms that branched out, more or less in a narrow squashed circle. He had come up a narrow stair to this, the second, level. He could see a dining room table and pantry at the end of the hall, and a sitting room off to the right with some tatty furniture, and on the left, several doorways which he presumed led into bedrooms. Every surface appeared to be cluttered with junk; every inch of every wall was plastered with old photographs, many of which did not have frames and had been attached with masking tape. Fiberglass insulation sagged from holes in the suspended ceiling.
    _____A thought suddenly occurred to him, and he called out, "Your boy, Tommy. What about him?"
    _____She absently said, "Tommy's only in first grade, so he comes home on an earlier bus. I've already scooted him off to a friend's house down the street. I will have to go get him at around four thirty, which would give you some private time alone with Jessi— if, that is, you're still here," she added, silently cursing herself from behind a corner. More grasping; more over-reaching. How could he not have fled for his car already?
    _____He asked, "Are you so sure I will have made a run for it by that time?"
    _____She shrugged and said, "Who knows? You may not hit it off. What I'm saying is, I'm not so ditzy that I don't know how weird this is. Odds are, you'll find no common connection, and in truth I wouldn't be surprised. But at least we'll be able to say we tried."
    _____He said, "Well I can promise you that one way or another, I will not leave your daughter alone in the house if you have to run out to get Tommy. I will wait until you come back before I run screaming."
    _____Carol smiled, and as she bustled about covering the sprung furniture with throw quilts, she said, "Good, good."
    _____Then he did the last thing she would have expected: he asked for permission to sit.
    _____Flustered, she said, "Yes, sir, yes, of course."
    _____"Thank you. Listen. I think that if this venture has any chance of achieving anything, I should get into character as your invited guest. You are, after all, Jessica's mother and the head of the house."
    _____"Meaning what, exactly?"
    _____He said, "I think that for the duration of this visit we should address each other by name. That does not carry over to the office, of course."
    _____"I— yes, sir— I mean, yes, Nelson, I understand." She said, "Well, umm, I am the head of house, and as such I am your hostess... so, would you like some coffee?"
    _____"I would love some, thank you."
    _____Carol Turner had obviously dug a hole at least as deeply as the pit in which he now found himself inextricably trapped. By now he had lost count of the number of breaches in decorum and common sense that the mother had committed since he had walked in the door. Surely, she had committed a string of improprieties to rival none but his own. She did return, by and by, with coffee.
    _____Nelson said, "I have been thinking. A thought occurred to me this morning: You have deleted all those pictures from the digital camera, haven't you? I mean to say, given you live in a triple decker full of extended family and unlocked doors...."
    _____"Oh yes," she said, almost with annoyance, "of course, of course. You don't know the half of it. The camera belongs to my father-in-law. We couldn't possibly afford a fancy camera like that. Nor do we have a computer of our own, so I borrowed my brother-in-law's PC, downstairs. I used it to move the pictures straight to a thumb drive, and worked off that, so no copies would be left lying around. I deleted the camera memory on the night that the pictures were taken, and I have erased the thumb drive's memory, too."
    _____He nodded and surmised, "So I have the only copies in existence."
    _____"Yes sir— I mean, Nelson— absolutely, the only ones. And believe me, my husband Billy, and my father-in-law, and Jessi's two uncles, all secretly checked the camera for the pictures at some point this weekend, and acted very disgruntled when they came up empty. So yes, there are no other copies."
    _____"Good," said Nelson Spencer. "Thank you for being discreet."
    _____"You're welcome. But why do you ask, if you don't mind? Those pictures are yours, you know, and Jessi is fine with that. She posed especially for you, after all."
    _____He briskly shook his head. "No, no. That will not do. Carol, I do not see the pictures as being mine at all. I see them as belonging to Jessica."
    _____Carol nodded slowly and murmured, "She will appreciate that point of view."
    _____"I am sure she will," he agreed.
    _____For the next ten minutes they did not say a word.
    _____Presently the school bus could be heard coming down the street, accompanied by the squeal of worn brakes, and the boisterous noise of youths emerging. Carol peeked through a shutter to see Jessica out on the sidewalk mired in a heated argument with Jimmy, who did not look happy at all. "Damn it," she muttered. She hadn't given a single thought to the possibility that Jessica might invite that little snake-in-the-grass, Jimmy, into the house! Or even worse, what if she just passed her own front stoop and allowed herself to be dragged down the street to Jimmy's house?
    _____Carol half-considered running outside to intercede when she heard her daughter shrilly yell, "No, Jimmy, I don't care!" Carol then heard Jessica's feet stomping up the front stairs at a near-run.
    _____Carol rushed by Dr. Spencer, who merely looked on, nonplussed, and she ran into the kitchen to make herself look busy.
    _____Moments later the door opened and slammed, and Dr. Spencer just barely caught a flash of brunette hair, tied back into a trailing ponytail, and a short white polka dot skirt. Jessica moved with quick confidence and authority, and cast a hazy aura of rain droplets that softened and somewhat obscured the vision. A heavy book bag collided with a hallway end table. Another door shook in its frame, and a clear, ringing syrinx trilled, "That goddamn Jimmy! The decrepit little moron, screw him!"
    _____Nelson had barely caught a glimpse of the girl in passing, yet he found himself instantly and entirely transfixed by the flash of slender, muscular legs and the bright, musical soprano of her voice. A mere glimpse, three tenths of a second at most, left him utterly smitten. Madness.
    _____Then the bedroom door opened again, and the high, clear voice intoned, "Mom. What are you doing home?"
    _____"Oh, special circumstances—"
    _____The mellifluous voice took on an edge of distress, "You lost your job? No, Mom!"
    _____But Carol reassured the girl, "No, no, nothing like that. Don't fret about me. You seem to have troubles of your own. Is something wrong, dear?"
    _____A considered pause preceded her response, "Just that Jimmy. He is such a baby."
    _____"He's a year older than you are, honey."
    _____"But he is so childish, and I have told him time and again that I consent to be his friend and nothing more. He simply will not get it, but that is his problem. Colleen will not like hearing that, but at this point I am past caring. Mom, can I do my homework after dinner? Colleen invited me downstairs; we want to do our aerobics together on her TV."
    _____This request touched Carol deeply. Ordinarily she would still have been at work, and Jessica would have let herself in, then gone straight off to wherever she pleased. But since Carol was home, it had occurred to her daughter to seek permission.
    _____Nevertheless, Carol suggested, "Maybe Colleen can wait."
    _____"What for?" Jessica asked.
    _____"You have a visitor."
    _____"In the parlor."
    _____Jessica stormed into the living room, expecting to find that Jimmy had snuck in behind her to make a big scene in front of her Mom, to try to garner sympathy over getting dumped and having his poor little heart ripped out for the umpteenth time, and instead she beheld Dr. Nelson Spencer, Ph.D. in the flesh, wearing an obsidian business suit and looking positively huge upon their tatty little couch. Her espresso eyes dilated wide as demitasse cups. With a hand to her mouth she screamed, sprinted from the room, and slammed her bedroom door.
    _____Carol tip-toed in with a bemused grin.
    _____Nelson whispered, "Guess I made an impression."
    _____Carol chuckled and whispered, "Any other reaction would have told me you were wasting your time here. Hold on. I'll go drag her back." Carol scurried away.
    _____Carol cracked the bedroom door and found her daughter pacing at a sprint, with her hands over her mouth.
    _____Jessica caught sight of her mother. She froze on point, paralyzed by distress, and whispered, "Mom, what must I do? What should I say?"
    _____Jessica's mother wryly responded, "You could tell him that coming here uninvited is very rude, and send him home."
    _____"Mommmmmm!" she cried, frantic. "I mean, like, do I really have to pose and stuff? Do I have to take my clothes off for him?"
    _____Her mother smiled and assured her, "No, nothing like, honey. What would give you that idea? You don't have to do anything you don't want to do."
    _____"Well should I, like, grab his package, like you told us the other night, and tell him he can have anything he wants?"
    _____Carol advised, "Maybe you could save that for the second date, if there is one."
    _____"This is a date???"
    _____"Wrong word, sorry. Visit. It's just a visit. Seriously, Jess, why don't you try just going out there and being yourself? I am sure he'd like the real you most of all."
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  30. #30
    Precious princess
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    Default Chapter 4: Tutor, Pt. b

    _____The door opened. Jessica emerged, hands behind her back, and stepped right into the room. He resisted the impulse to rise, because she stood even shorter than her mother. He resolved to remain seated. Apart from that minor decision, he found his cognitive capacity severely degraded by his observation of the million tiny diamonds upon her tied back hair, and the sheen of light-motes upon her neck, and the universe reflected in her eyes. She smelled like rain upon leaves, like the forest after a thunderstorm's passing, like seed-crowns teased into waves by an autumnal breeze, like snowflakes captured by eyelashes in nascent winter. Her soul playfully cast its net like a taunt, and captured him, there where he sat, snatched him up in a gentle cage made of its slender fingers, and regarded him with avid curiosity, as he fluttered impotently, at the mercy of its silken fetters. Then her soul released him with an enigmatic smile, and retreated to commiserate with the angel herself. The girl and her soul made a game of their assessment, beguiling and challenging each other with dares, and judged his fate, in devious yet playful conspiracy, while he sat and awaited the outcome of his existence with passive acceptance. He imagined that she had come to some sort of provisional decision as she impulsively shivered, and he had to fight back the compulsion to mimic the reflex sympathetically. She rubbed the damp goosebumps upon her forearms. And then, her musical voice spoke once again. To him. Apparently she and her soul had decided that they would deign to speak to him. For now. Her voice sounded soft and pleasant, yet high, clear, and confident, too.
    _____Jessica said, "Dr. Spencer, hello. You surprised me."
    _____He smiled and said, "I am sorry. And please call me Nelson."
    _____She nodded pertly. There he sat, upon the sprung couch, improbable as it seemed, and she didn't quite come up to his eye level while standing. She held out a tiny hand, and he took her little hand in his huge palm. His fingers wrapped partway up her forearm, and he gently shook.
    _____Jessica said, "Nelson, I am pleased to make your acquaintance."
    _____"Likewise," he replied.
    _____She blushed, released his hand, and quickly clasped her hands behind her back again, so they wouldn't dangle idiotically or find things to play with. She said, "Well I am sorry you had to hear that. You know, from when I first walked in. Umm, I broke up with this boy named Jimmy today. He was nothing; it was just a crush; well, not even a crush; really nothing more than a favor to my cousin, you know...." and her voice drifted off as she silently chastised herself with the admonishment that he would not care in the least about all her adolescent blather.
    _____"Well, no apologies are necessary. You were not expecting me, and I understand that this must be very awkward for you. It is kind of awkward for me, too—"
    _____"I bet!" she interjected.
    _____He continued, "—but I just had to meet you in person, and I am so glad that I did."
    _____She instantly registered his use of the past tense, looked over to her Mom, suddenly stricken, and then back to him, and murmured, "Does that mean you already need to leave?"
    _____He shrugged and said, "I don't want to go, but I have intruded, and that is rather rude; it is obvious that you have already made plans with your friend Colleen—"
    _____"No, well, umm, she is just Colleen; she is just my cousin, and I can see her later; she lives right downstairs; I see her all the time, and, ohhh, ummm, I really want you to stay, and Mom-is-that-alright?"
    _____Carol smiled and said, "Of course it's alright. If it's alright with Nelson. Nelson, do you have to go?"
    _____"No, no, I don't. My afternoon is free."
    _____Carol said, "Then we'd be delighted if you'd stay. That is, Jessica would like you to stay."
    _____Jessica looked at him with wide eyes and nodded avidly.
    _____"Good!" Carol said brightly, "I'll go fetch some refreshments."
    _____Jessica grinned and shook her head with her upper lip trapped between her incisors, while she watched her Mom scurry toward the kitchen.
    _____Nelson Spencer studied Jessica, a task which commanded his entire attention. She wore the white polka dot skirt and the matching cutoff blouse, which bared her entire midriff, from her ribs down to her narrow hips, and he could not help but notice that she had unbuttoned all but one button on the blouse, to expose her bra. The cold drizzle outside had painted her in tiny reflective shimmers which somehow contrived to improve upon her perfection, and she persisted in shivering, the sight of which threatened to drive him crazy.
    _____Jessica turned back to him, realized he had been looking at her, and gave him a bashful smile. She said, "Mom is even more nervous than I am. She would never bring refreshments to me and my friends on an ordinary day. Not because she is not nice! My Mom is the absolute best, and even Colleen says she is completely cool. Colleen is an authority, believe me. What I mean is that Mom has to work now, so she is usually not around on weekdays." She cocked her head in a way that he found adorable and added, "We have you to thank for that, do we not?"
    _____He cleared his throat and admitted, "You do, and I am sorry I have taken your mother away from you."
    _____Jessica mused, as much to herself as to him, "That would not be your fault. It is Dad's fault that my Mom has to work."
    _____He carefully said, "Jessica, you should not have to feel ashamed of your Dad."
    _____She scoffed, "You don't know him." Then she bit her lip, and timidly asked her sneakers, "So, what do you want to do?"
    _____Nelson imagined she had to be thinking that he would expect her to mimic some of the poses she had made in that same outfit. Or maybe that he would ask her to disrobe. Or that he, himself, would pull out a camera. What must she be thinking now, he wondered, about his motivations for coming here to meet her in person? What did she think he must want from her? And did he have any idea, himself? Just to hear her voice again, saying anything at all; to see her smile again, at anything at all. What he wanted most to do that moment was gently dry her skin and hair of the drizzle with a soft Egyptian towel, while she purred in his lap. Smitten. Madness.
    _____Nelson had been in Jessica's company for nearly five minutes and counting. All that time his eyes had never strayed from her perfect form. Yet still he could not have begun to guess her age, or her grade. Her diction and elocution defied the contradictory evidence imparted by his eyes. And he didn't care. The question that had occupied his every thought since the appearance of her first portrait no longer had relevance to him.
    _____He soothingly replied, "What would you do on any ordinary day, if I had not rudely interrupted your routine? For instance, I could help you with your homework."
    _____She nodded breathlessly and said, "All right. And then if we still have time, I could maybe do my aerobics and stretching and stuff, if you don't mind watching."
    _____He promised her, "I wouldn't mind at all, either to watch you or not, as you please."
    _____She beamed at him and said, "Meet me in the kitchen alcove; the light is best there; I'll go get my book bag." She scurried out, fairly bouncing with her enthusiasm. He watched her slender legs and pert bottom as she turned the corner, shook his head clear, and walked to the dining area. Jessica came in moments later, pulled a chair right up beside her own so that they touched, sat down, patted the other chair to encourage him to sit, and began to haul an immense stack of books and papers out of her bag.
    _____Nelson set himself in the chair beside her, and his forearm inadvertently brushed up against her upper arm and shoulder, which she did nothing to rectify.
    _____Within moments, Jessica bent over her math homework and labored away feverishly. He watched without a word, and found himself immediately impressed by how quickly she could perform long division. For several moments he was at a loss to explain the pace with which she produced her results, but he gradually understood. With growing incredulity, he observed that she did not write down any intermediary steps. She jotted the answer to the division of two numbers with four and eight digits, without any carries, and rapidly worked the result out to five decimal places. She moved onto the next problem while he scrambled to verify the one preceding. All too soon, she left him far behind.
    _____She could feel his eyes upon her. She glanced up, smiled, and said, "Thanks for helping me with my homework."
    _____"You look lovely today. I should have said that before."
    _____Jessica returned to her homework and grimaced, at a loss as to why he would say such a thing. Without looking up, she bit her lip, sighed, and quietly offered, "I could change out of my school clothes if you want. I usually do my homework just in my panties. I could even wear one of the sexy pairs that you bought for me.... That would be all right, Dr. Spencer, because, umm, you have already seen all of me anyway. If that is what you really came for, it is, umm, all right. Just please be honest with me."
    _____"No. I certainly did not come here for that. And you are beautiful just as you are."
    _____Her smile disappeared, and she said, quite seriously, "Don't tease me."
    _____He earnestly said, "I never would, Jessica. You are beautiful. Your eyes alone are all I have to see to know that."
    _____She returned to her homework, inclined her head away from him, and grinned.
    _____Just then Carol entered with a tray of cookies, milk for Jessica, and a refill for Dr. Spencer's coffee cup. "Don't mind me," Carol said in a harried tone, "I'll set these down and get right out of your way."
    _____Jessica urged, "Don't go, Mom, stay! You don't mind, do you, Dr. Spencer?"
    _____"Not in the least," he answered, and he sounded as though he really meant it.
    _____Carol took a chair and said, "Jessi, you know, Nelson is not a medical doctor. He is quite an accomplished mathematician."
    _____Jessica looked up at him inquisitively. "You only gave me the cover of the magazine. You are a doctor of math?"
    _____"Yes, that is right. Applied Mathematics and Statistics."
    _____Jessica's mouth fell open.
    _____He smiled enigmatically and asked what was wrong.
    _____She said, "I had never known there was such a thing."
    _____His smile turned warm, and he said, "One can be a doctor, or expert, in just about anything. Let us just say that I know enough about math to be very impressed with the way you do long division."
    _____She looked down at her paper and blushed. "What is so impressive? It is just division."
    _____"Are you learning mental calculation at school?"
    _____She replied, "Umm, no. We are not. It is just a trick I have picked up on my own. My homework goes faster this way." Neither the other students in her class nor her teacher, Miss Marshall, could do long division in their heads. He had caught her at one of her freakish talents, to her intense chagrin. In the process of explaining herself, she flustered and hastily scribbled a few steps under her current problem, after she had already put down the correct answer, as though to deny the accusation that she could calculate in her head.
    _____Her crude attempt at deception amused him.
    _____He looked up at Carol, with narrowed eyes. A natural human calculator? Self-taught, sitting here in a tenement? He had been enchanted by this young woman before he had stepped through the door. He could not possibly have foreseen this development, and the revelation nearly knocked him cold. Then he realized that she was looking up at him, and he struggled to maintain a casual tone. He mused, "Those are large numbers. I am very impressed, indeed."
    _____Jessica glanced down at her sheet, and thought to herself that the numbers were not very large at all. She accused, with neither reproach nor surprise, "You are teasing me again."
    _____"No. No, I am not. Nor was I teasing you before, as I have said."
    _____She eyed him shrewdly and went back to her homework.
    _____Now the young lady became feisty. She tapped her pencil on her nose, looked up at him, and demanded, "Okay, Mr. smarty-pants-I'm-on-the-cover-of-Fortune," and this put him in stitches, but she continued right over his guffaw, "help me with this. Here I have to divide six hundred twenty-five by twenty-five, and I just happen to know the answer is twenty-five, because it is a square, so knowing squares can be a shortcut, right?"
    _____He glanced at her current problem, a division of a five digit number into a nine digit number, and realized with a flush that she must have been referring to some intermediary step that only she could see. He stammered, "Yes, Jess, that is right, the square root of six hundred twenty-five is twenty-five." He looked up at Carol, who also felt deeply impressed, yet perhaps vicariously, having been exposed to her daughter's singular talents for so long that they had become familiar.
    _____"So here's the thing," Jessica continued. "If I am in a quiz and I know my squares, I can save a lot of time. So my question, Mr. Know-It-All—"
    _____Now Carol chided, "Jessica, don't be rude to your guest."
    _____Jessica impatiently waved her Mom silent and looked up into Nelson Spencer's enchanted grin, her eyes dancing, and challenged, "As I was saying, Mr. Rhodes Scholar, is there any way I can check out a bigger number fast to see if its factors include square roots, before I go into all the long division mucky-muck?"
    _____Dr. Spencer launched into an accurate and detailed answer that put Carol straight out to sea, but Jessica hung on every word, sipping her milk, until he finished. Then she scanned down her long division homework and correctly identified several six digit squares. She filled in the answers as she proceeded, with barely a pause down the page. He had just rattled off a fairly complex recursive method, full of intermediary steps, and could not have imagined that she would have been able to retain the procedure well enough to execute it in practice. Yet she performed the method entirely in her head, and with little apparent effort.
    _____Dr. Spencer carefully asked, "What grade are you in again?"
    _____"Don't mind me," she replied with carefully prepared prevarication, "I am a freak."
    _____His eyes roved involuntarily up and down her slim, coltish figure, in a way that she thoroughly enjoyed watching, and he mused aloud, "You can't possibly be a senior."
    _____"I have skipped a grade," she provided, and thereby succeeded, once again, in deflecting the question.
    _____Nelson's head spun. "Rightfully so. That is senior level math you are doing." To say nothing of the fact that she was doing the work faster than the average person could key the problems into a hand calculator.
    _____Carol, across the table, just glowed from behind her own cup of coffee. Then she stood, and found something to do in the kitchen, not ten feet away.
    _____Jessica pressed her nose to the paper, held her breath, and silently begged her uninvited yet most welcome guest to change the subject. She knew that she was being paid a very serious compliment that had absolutely nothing to do with how sexy she looked when she faced her headboard on her hands and knees and pushed her thong-clad butt toward the lens of Grampa's camera. She knew that if she did not say something, he would, and that she most likely would not appreciate whatever came from his lips. So she spoke up, at the paper. Rather than acknowledge his compliment, she diverted him by saying, to the paper, "You are very handsome in that suit, Sir."
    _____Taken aback, he regrouped and said, "Thank you, Miss, but please don't call me Sir. Call me Nelson."
    _____She grinned again, at the paper, and said, "That simply will not do. It has been decided. I choose to call you Sir, henceforth. It sounds respectful, and I like it. I don't call anyone Sir. And I mean no one. No one has ever even asked me to. You, I will call Sir henceforth, and only because I choose to do so. And I will call you Nelson," she added, "when I am angry with you. And I shall address you as Dr. Spencer, when I never want to see you again."
    _____"Well, okay," he agreed.
    _____"I will say again, that suit becomes you. It is not the suit that you wore for Fortune magazine."
    _____He cleared his throat and said, "I own more than one."
    _____"I imagine you do," she remarked to the paper. "None of my teachers dress like that."
    _____He muttered in not-so-subtle mimicry, "I don't imagine they do."
    _____She looked up from her paper for the first time since the math lesson, her eyes awash in glitter, and pursed her lips in deep contemplation. Had she and Nelson just shared their first inside joke? How many more episodes of playful repartee would they share, before he ran from the house screaming?
    _____"And I like your tie," she added, not to the paper, but directly to him, while looking him straight in the eye. "That must be a very expensive tie. The tiled birds and fish: M.C. Escher, yes?"
    _____"Yes," he murmured, "that is correct."
    _____"I have never seen anything like it— not on a gentleman's necktie, that is. Boundary transitions and tilings fascinate me. I bet you have lots of elegant neckties. And lots of nice suits, as well."
    _____"A fair few," he admitted. "Suits are just about all I wear. When I am not putting around at home in boxer shorts and ripped jerseys, that is."
    _____She giggled and admitted, "I can't imagine that." Then the giggling stopped, and she just looked at him. She swore she could discern a prismatic aura spilling off his skin, as though he were some supernatural being, radiating an ineffable form of elemental energy into her family's decrepit kitchen. Jessica felt completely, utterly certain that her young, fresh eyes had never beheld anything so beautiful in her entire life. She scrambled to memorize every minute facet of the vision, being equally convinced that Nelson's happenstance proximity to her life would not persist beyond this magical yet sadly brief afternoon.
    _____She forced herself to keep talking, and said, "My Dad doesn't have a single business suit. My granddad, Grampa Bill, he wears a suit to work, but he only has the one, and it looks like a high rise condo for moths. Fine clothing flatters you, Sir. I wish I could buy you a nice suit, like this one. I would if I could."
    _____He correctly surmised that her compliment was a veiled jibe, intentional counterpoint to the naughty underwear, which she perhaps unfairly attributed to him. He recovered and stammered, "I would be very appreciative if you did. I am sure you have fine taste. But you have changed the subject. I was trying to tell you that you are incredible at math."
    _____She shrugged and returned to her homework, saying, without looking at him, "You see where we live. I am not staying here any longer than necessary. Math is my way out."
    _____He said, without a trace of humor, "You are absolutely right about that."
    _____She looked up at him again, shrewdly, and said, "I bet you think I am a nerd."
    _____He earnestly shook his head and declared, "No. You are exceptionally bright. Bright is beautiful. And you are far too pretty to be a nerd. Besides, the stereotypical nerd wears black rimmed cokebottle glasses. You are a heartbreaker as it is. Eyeglasses would definitely be overkill."
    _____"I suppose they would," she said, with staunch determination to ignore the flurry of compliments, "because my eyes are fine. Anyway, my math is done."
    _____"In record time," her mother drily observed, upon returning to the dining nook with suspiciously adept timing.
    _____"Well, sure! Thanks to my debonair homework coach, who has gallantly taught me how to detect square roots lickety-split. All the more time for aerobics! But I still have to write a short story for English."
    _____Carol said, "Well I'd better leave you to it, then." She hurried away to leave them alone before Jessica could compel her to return to her seat.
    _____While Jessica rummaged in her book bag, Nelson made a tentative yet ultimately injudicious attempt to revisit the touchy subject of her age. "So, you mentioned that you have skipped a grade. Which one?"
    _____Jessica froze, and stared into her book bag. She wanted absolutely nothing from this encounter, nothing but one small afternoon, a few short hours, a brief suspension of her no doubt inglorious fate. Yet he seemed to be hell bent on cheating her, and cutting short this fleeting interlude. She whispered, into her book bag, "What ultimate difference could the answer to that question possibly make?"
    _____She forced her lips into a thin smile and emerged with a pad of college ruled paper. "To be continued. I need to concentrate on my short story."
    _____Nelson asked a well-intentioned question. "Do you need to be alone to write the story? I could hang out in the living room until you have finished."
    _____Jessica's head snapped up, and she looked at him with a focused, appraising expression that he already recognized as chagrin. He had offended her, and he had no idea how he had done so.
    _____With an exaggerated turn of her head, Jessica glanced down the hallway, into which her mother had just disappeared, and her eyes narrowed. "You most certainly do not have to stay on my account, Nelson."
    _____His eyes went wide. "You're mad at me."
    _____She sneered, "Not mad. Resigned, I suppose, which in my experience often amounts to the same thing, for all practical purposes. You have just confirmed a suspicion of mine, and I am okay with it."
    _____"What have I just confirmed?"
    _____Jessica replied, "Mom is waiting in her bedroom— first door off the kitchen— and I am cool. It is all good."
    _____He tossed his head back, mouthing, "Ahhh, haaa," and then he urgently said, "Listen, Jess, you have it all wrong."
    _____"It's Jessica, Nelson, and do I? Colleen and I wondered about you, and why Mom begged me to do all that posing. I really didn't mind, not if it would help my Mom. We even asked her straight out, if, you know, you two have something going, but she told us absolutely not, that you are interested in another woman."
    _____"What do you mean?" he blurted guiltily, his eyes seeing red. Had Carol told her daughter about Laura Ableton, or Vanessa Curtis, or some other easy lay? Had she clumsily spoiled his prospects before this "visit" had even commenced?
    _____Jessica screeched her chair two feet from his, turned to face him, and actually made him cringe back with the ferocity of her indignation. Yet she proceeded calmly, with obvious calculation. "My Mom said that your relationship with her is completely professional, and that you are interested in someone else. But I didn't believe that, and neither did Colleen, and so I have been thinking about you. Off and on, that is. You are a single guy, well to do, nine or ten cuts above anyone my Mom has ever had, and my whole family are such losers to begin with, and there is really no love lost between Dearest Father and me. Let's just say that if Mom ever managed to escape him it wouldn't exactly break my heart. And so I poured my whole effort into those lewd poses, because Mom thought it might help. Hell, I even posed stark naked and spread like a common whore for the last few— I don't suppose you have any idea how humiliating that was for me— and I even wore that flimsy lingerie you gave me, though I have to admit I got a rush out of imagining my loser Dad's heart attack, were he ever to find out. But that happy thought doesn't diminish the debasement, not by one iota. So, Nelson, sir, Dr. Spencer, I am really not mad. I might not be old enough for you, but I am most certainly old enough to connect these dots—"
    _____"That much is evident," he cut in.
    _____She persisted, "—and all I am saying is that if you want to wander off for an hour while I take my time writing this story, I will completely understand, and I have no problem with that, none at all. I won't even try to listen, if it gets, you know, rambunctious. I will just crank up the volume on the TV."
    _____He turned his chair now, and looked straight at her, and had to hunch down low to do it, but she didn't cringe away; she just glared right back. He said, "You are an extraordinarily intelligent young woman, but I have to tell you again that you have it all wrong."
    _____Jessica snarled, "Do I? I might not be twenty-six, but I am neither stupid nor naive. I am not a kid, Dr. Spencer."
    _____That was the second time she had made it a point to address him with his surname, and he knew what it meant: that she was trying to end the conversation, for good. But he soldiered on, and meaningfully confirmed, "No, you certainly are not a kid. Your Mom is right that I have another girlfriend, but that relationship's days are severely numbered. You see, your Mom is also correct that I am interested in someone else, and that I am now in the process of making way for that someone, if she will have me. But that new someone is definitely, absolutely not your mother. As for this other girlfriend— well, let's just say I have a problem that is not unlike your own travails with this neighborhood boy, Jimmy. Her name is Laura. She is very nice in most respects, but she is rather immature, and I have to do something about that. I just don't want it to end with yelling on a sidewalk, if you know what I mean."
    _____Jessica blushed, recalling her recent altercation with Jimmy, and then her eyes hardened. "Listen, Nelson, that is all very touching, but there is one especially important reason why I am gratified that you felt compelled to slum it today. I have a simple request, and I have to get it out there."
    _____"Let's hear it."
    _____"All I ask is that you keep those digital photographs to yourself."
    _____He indignantly protested, "I would never—"
    _____She lashed, "I mean it! I posed for my mother, and you'll say whatever you have to, until you get into my mother's pants, but when you're done with her you'll think differently. Just don't put my face, or my... my... my whatever-else, on the Internet or something! I heard my uncles talking, and that's what men do: turn their conquests into trophies for a quick buck. Just please don't do it! That is all I ask! Because if you do, those pictures will end up in every bathroom stall in greater Boston, and everyone will know about me, and see me—" and she went into a contorted, incarnadine rage— "and they'll see me showing myself... and I'll just end up a slut like my mother, knocked up by some jerk with tattoos and track marks, and I'll never get out of this fucking neighborhood and I'll kill myself with a blunt knife so you can post the mess, I swear it!"
    _____Nelson looked hard at her righteous fury, and stood up with a wave of an index finger, as though admonishing her to wait. He took three long steps to a black leather brief case. While Jessica stared through glassy eyes and fought to prevent the tears from flowing, he rummaged in the briefcase and returned with a CD, which he placed upon her lap.
    _____Jessica looked down at the jewel case, which quite obviously held the very same CD that her Mom had given to Dr. Spencer. She asked, with a ragged, distressed soprano, "What are you doing?"
    _____He returned to his seat and tersely replied, "You know."
    _____"No, Nelson. I have no idea. What is this?"
    _____He gently lifted her chin, looked her into her depthless chocolate eyes, and said, "The pictures. They are not mine. They are yours. And I am giving them back to you. Those are the only copies. I promise."
    _____She wrenched her head away and looked down at the CD again. She admitted something, with a quaking voice, that came very hard for her. "I do not understand."
    _____He explained, "Jessica, it is not complicated. It is not that your pictures do not excite me. You are a beautiful young woman. You assuredly excite me. I suppose it is not entirely accurate to claim that these are the only copies, because I have spent all morning burning them indelibly into my memory. But now I know you as a real person, and in person you are even more compelling than these pictures, these mere shadows. I like you, as a person, for you, yourself, and it is not right that I should have your pictures. So I am giving them back to you. You can scratch them up, or shred them, or smash them, or whatever you want to do. Right here and now, in fact. I will watch, so that we will both know they are gone forever."
    _____She gulped and breathed hard, afraid to look at him. "Well, umm, okay, then," she agreed, and wiped away a tear. Then she opened the jewel case. Using the hard ballpoint pen, she gouged deep scratches into the CD from every side, shut the case, and tossed it across the room, nailing it flawlessly into the trash. As yet unable to look at him, she stared at the empty table, where the jewel case had been; she wiped away more tears, and with a sniffly voice, said, "So, umm, you can stay and help me with my short story. If you want. I would, umm, I would like that."
    More to come.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  31. #31
    Precious princess
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    Default 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?"
    _____"Uhh, yes."
    _____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."
    _____Nelson roared.
    _____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!"
    _____"Count, Mother!"
    _____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.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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    Default Glossary

    KENO: An evilly exploitive form of gambling, practiced first in Massachusetts, U.S. yet no doubt elsewhere by now; essentially a Numbers Game that runs on video screens in pubs littered with peanut shells and beer stains. One makes bets on paper slips, which are stacked on every table, wedged between the salt and pepper, and pays the cashier or barmaid in advance of rounds which occur every fifteen minutes. Ironic that Massachusetts, the reputed Athens of America, almost universally Democratic (Sen. Scott Brown notwithstanding), and possessed of more than its fair share of self-described progressives, also possesses one of the most aggressive and unscrupulous lottery systems in the Northern Hemisphere. The references to Keno in Nascent are in fact a snide joke (given Jessica's precocity in mental calculation), because we have a saying in Massachusetts: Gambling is a tax on people who suck at math.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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    Default Chapter 4: Tutor, Pt. d

    _____An hour and a half later, Nelson called Laura Ableton.
    _____She hung up on him.
    _____He called again.
    _____She refused to pick up.
    _____He texted, "Pick up the phone. Please."
    _____Laura complied. "What?"
    _____"Tomorrow you will be thankful that it didn't happen."
    _____"Bullshit. You lied. About some kind of meeting."
    _____He said, "Yes. I did. And I am sorry about that, Laura. But you deserve much better than to be molested and mauled by some old man like me."
    _____She stridently insisted, "You're not old! You're so much more handsome and mature than any of the guys at school, and you're so.... you're so.... and well anyway I thought you liked me. I thought you wanted me."
    _____"I do want you. But it is not right."
    _____"You said you would do things, make me feel good."
    _____"The things I said I would do, they feel really good, in principle. But I should not be the one doing them. It should be someone whom you really care about, someone you love. That is what makes it special. Besides, nothing I could have done with you would have felt good, after your waiting for three hours blindfolded in the rain."
    _____"Dr. Spencer. I just— I know you think I'm just doing this for my grandfather. But I liked you. I wanted you. Me."
    _____"Laura, I know you are mad now, but after a good night's sleep you will be relieved. And I do like you, very much. But not that way."
    _____She huffed inarticulately, sobbed, and snarled, "I have to go."
    _____He tried to reply, but she had hung up.


    _____Back at the Turner triple decker, Jessica had rushed back from one of the most rapid, harried aerobics sessions in memory. She had thought she had gone prepared for Colleen's hundred questions, having constructed an elaborate series of lies about all the ways Jimmy had whined and begged for another chance to get into her pants. But the third degree had not lasted a minute before Jessica had recognized that the lies would never work. One thing about Colleen, she was relentlessly inquisitive. She would not be repressed or denied for long, and if this... this, whatever it was... with Nelson Spencer went on for much longer, Colleen would have to be told something. Lies based on Jimmy's infatuation simply would not hold. On the other hand, Jessica did not want to declare herself, in terms of how she felt about Nelson. What if it fell through? First things first. She would somehow have to get through a whole night, and a day at school, and then a long wait for Mom to come home from work tomorrow, just to find out if Dr. Nelson Spencer was the sort of man who kept his promises. In the meantime, Jessica had used a somewhat more defensible lie, by telling Colleen that the school had sent a tutor to the house.
    _____After dinner, Jessica managed to pull her mother beyond range of Tommy's prying ears, behind her closed bedroom door, for more advice. "Mom, listen. About Nelson's picture? On my headboard? The one with the note?"
    _____"Yes, honey? What about it?"
    _____Jessica asked, "Well, umm, don't you think I should throw it away?"
    _____Carol sat down on the bed with her daughter. Tommy had wandered back out into the living room, and had resumed his video game with the volume cranked to ten. Carol could be relatively sure they were not being overheard. "Honey, you don't really have any idea where Dr. Spencer's interest will lead, or even if it will lead anywhere."
    _____Jessica's bubble burst, but she did not cry. She spitefully said, "You are telling me not to hope. But I am not, Mom. I do not hope for anything. I never hope for anything."
    _____Carol hugged her daughter and said, "That's not what I mean. Sure, it's true that it might not work out. Most things don't in life. You've only just started high school, and you're already old enough to know that. But even if it doesn't work out— or for that matter, even if it does— think of this. With every letter, and every visit, if there are more visits, you are going to know more about each other, and you'll become closer friends. That note on your headboard? That is the first. Maybe just the first of a few, or perhaps the first of many. But either way, you will be able to look back at them and see how far you've come."
    _____Jessica looked up at her Mom and smiled. "That is a beautiful way of looking at it, Mom."
    _____Carol nodded briskly and said, "Only you know if you want to keep it, and it matters only to you. But I agree that, if you do decide to keep it, the headboard is not the best place. It ought to come down, because the note on the back is private, and you wouldn't want your father seeing it."
    _____Jessica nodded, in tacit agreement. "What should I do?"
    _____Carol tapped her chin and mused, "Other girls, you know, from when I was growing up, their dads would buy them hope chests."
    _____"What is a hope chest?"
    _____"It's a little box with a lock, a place where a girl can put things that remind her of a special someone who might be the one. That's why it's called a hope chest. Usually there are several possible special someones who trade places, and old stuff gets dumped out, before the real Mr. Right makes his entrance."
    _____Jessica thought about this, and wanted to laugh at the implausibility of the mere notion that she would ever allow something like that into her room, even if, with even greater implausibility, Dad should ever buy one for her. A manifest totem for hope, a state of mind that she had denied herself throughout her life. But then again, she did fancy the notion of a simple box with a lock, so why get herself stuck on nomenclature? She despondently said, "I don't think Dad would ever buy me a hope chest."
    _____Carol agreed, "No, I don't suppose he would. But maybe we could use one of your old shoeboxes, and stash it at the top of your closet with the others. How does that sound?"
    _____"That would be good," Jessica provisionally agreed, thinking to herself that a box with a lock would be much better. "Thanks, Mom. I will do that. If I decide to keep it. "
    _____Carol made a wry face and ventured, "That note, and the gifts of underwear and lingerie, don't seem like him at all, now that you've become acquainted with the real article, do they?"
    _____Jessica shook her head earnestly.
    _____Carol nodded, saying, "Yes, well, remember this: Prince Charming might seem gallant and refined when he makes his grand entrance, but lure him into the bedroom and out of his clothes, and the wolf comes out. Even the most respectable gentlemen are sexy and lusty behind the serious demeanor, and men never, never, ever tire of sex. Remember that."
    _____Jessica grinned and declared, "I prefer to have my gentlemen sexy and lusty."
    _____Carol patted Jessica's knee and said, "Okay, then. So don't think less of him, just because he's made you the starlet in an impure thought or two. You liked the Nelson Spencer you met today, but the man who is perhaps dreaming tonight of ravishing you—"
    _____"That's him, too, honey. And I think you would fancy that Dr. Spencer just as much. Maybe even more."
    _____Jessica pondered this proposition for a long minute, with considerable skepticism, and finally said, "Okay, Mom. Thanks. I think I will keep the picture, but I will hide it well."
    _____"Good. Now you'd better get to work. It's late, and you have school tomorrow."


    _____Nelson made dinner for himself. He kindled a fire in the study, dressed for bed, and worked until almost midnight. Then, he took a seat at a desk that looked out upon a midnight-black lawn bifurcated by a rocky stream that sang a dolorous madrigal through the windowpanes. He gazed at his faint reflection, superimposed upon a bleak rainy night, and started his letter to Jessica.
    _____"So it begins."
    End of Chapter 4. More to come, soon. Formatting issues, etc. Maybe tonight. We'll see. Chapter 5 is especially sweet. (Love letters. Sorry for the spoiler, but they were so much fun to write!) Reading a cool book as I post this. Born to Run. Great book.


    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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  34. #34
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    Great improvement over previous version. Even poor Laura avoids a chilly predicament. Please uncan some more!
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    Default Chapter 5: Gift, Pt. a

    Chapter 5: Gift
    _____Jessica carefully tore a sheet of college ruled paper from a pad, and set it on the hard surface of an old world atlas that she often used as a tablet. She selected the best of the cheap ballpoint pens in her possession, used a tissue to wipe the congealed ink from the tip, and slowly drew the words, 'Dear Nelson.' There she stopped, and smiled at the words. She paced the room, clutching her atlas and ofttimes tablet to her breast. For the next hour she found herself unable to continue, and just gazed at the words, superimposing Nelson's beautiful face upon the backdrop of her room. At some point she sprawled upon the bed, on her stomach, crossed her legs behind her, with both feet in the air, and contemplated the myriad ways in which she could continue. Only after exhausting every permutation did she commence to write.
    _____That night, Jessica dreamed the very best dream of her life, and nearly died. She dove in front of her dearest Nelson just as Daddy raised the gun, and Daddy's index finger pulled the trigger before Jessica's feet hit the floor. She barely registered the piercing report of the bullet as it rent the air, or her scream as the molten lead ripped through her shoulder, or the pandemonium in the room. Nelson caught her in one arm and disarmed Daddy with the other. Nelson carried Jessica out of the house while clutching the gun. She could only cling to him with one arm. Then he was driving, and stroking her hair, and he promised to get them both to a hospital, but on the way into town, just before the old drawbridge, in the vicinity of the smokestacks, Nelson's car slowed to a crawl, rolled up onto the deserted sidewalk, stopped with a bone-grinding jolt against a rusty guard rail. Nelson slumped over the steering wheel. Jessica raised her one good arm, stroked Nelson's hair, and he turned just enough for Jessica to see, for the first time, that his white button-down shirt was saturated with blood that could not have been her own. The evil bullet had passed through her shoulder and struck him in the sternum. Jessica had thought she had successfully blocked the gunshot, and protected him, but now she understood that the bullet had hit him regardless. She had killed herself for nothing, because her glorious Nelson would die, too. Oh, bittersweet fate, and the way it conspired against them; how could they possibly persevere, with death's icy promise crawling in their veins, gloating with hungry anticipation?
    _____Now they were stranded, a couple miles from the hospital on a desolate road. Jessica did not know how to drive, and Nelson could not go on.
    _____"Oh no, Nelson, no, no! Nelson, dearest Sir, my love, no!"
    _____With a desperately weak voice he hoarsely assured her, "We are not going to die. Someone will come."
    _____These words scared her, not just for the implication that their survival hinged on happenstance, but for their futility. No one would come. No one who would help, anyway. Street thugs might materialize to strip the car even as they perished inside of it, but no one would transport them the final two miles to the emergency room.
    _____She gently touched his face and sobbed at the sight of the glistening red trail of smears left behind her fingertips, from his cheekbones to his chin. So much blood.
    _____He bent down toward her, and whispered, "Do not be afraid, Jessica."
    _____"I am not afraid," she cried.
    _____"You blocked the bullet."
    _____"Not enough, love; it still hit you."
    _____"Could have been worse. Hurts so bad... ribs... hurt... would have got me in the heart... should be dead by now...."
    _____"No, Nelson, don't say that, please don't!" She tried to raise both arms, to hug and console him, and screamed in agony, with the burn of the lead slug that had punched into her shoulder, just below the collar bone, and exited with a gaping wound. Blood pulsed down her back like a stream and puddled in the seat. She fell forward against him.
    _____"Someone will come," he promised again, without conviction. "You are so brave, Jessica."
    _____"I love you, Nelson. I will always love you."
    _____They kissed, one last time, and they vowed that this kiss would not relent until the very end.
    _____That the details of the kiss had to be left necessarily vague by no means detracted from the excellence of the dream. That he kissed like an eel, she could chalk up to their weakness, and the cloying wetness, from all the blood. That she still needed better raw material did not detract either. From that night, through the rest of her life, when Jessica dreamed, Dr. Nelson Spencer would take a starring role.


    _____When Jessica handed her letter off to her mother on the following morning, folded and taped shut, Carol remarked, "You've kept it short."
    _____Jessica looked stricken. "Should it be longer? I knew it was too short! I have a few minutes for the bus!" She grabbed for the letter, but her insufferable mother snatched it out of reach.
    _____Carol assured her daughter, "Relax, worry-wort. I told you, last night, to be yourself."
    _____"Myself would have made it longer, but I thought I would bore him with all my petty problems."
    _____"Don't worry about it, honey. I am sure it is just right."


    _____At work, Carol handed Dr. Spencer the note and said, "I've been asked to deliver this to you, sir."
    _____"Thank you, Carol," he replied.
    _____He had used her first name again, in a familiar fashion. In the office. A mere Freudian slip, or had something between them changed irrevocably? He turned his back on her, gazed out the window, and carefully peeled the scotch tape that sealed Jessica's note. At the window, he pressed the wrinkled college rule paper to his chest like a poker hand. Then he took a deep breath, unfolded the single sheet, and began to read.

    _____Jessica's first letter to Nelson.

    _____Dear Nelson,
    _____Sir, thanks again for helping me with my homework. You were very good and kind to me, and you did not have to be. I appreciate your kindness more than you will, or can, ever know.
    _____Colleen had a thousand questions about my secret afternoon visitor. Mom suggested I tell her that Jimmy had come over, but I knew that could not work. Colleen might have blabbed right back to Jimmy, who obviously had not come over. Also, she might have seen you go out the door, since she lives downstairs, and her bedroom window faces the side of the street on which you had parked. (I do not have a bedroom window, alas.) So I told her that a math tutor had been sent from the school, and had come to the house. Math tutors don't go to students' houses, ordinarily, but then again it is not ordinary for me to have been elevated a grade, so the lie worked on Colleen. Technically, there was a bit of truth to my fib. You did help me with my homework, and not just in terms of proximity and moral support. You taught me the recursive interpolation method, and now I can do long division much faster, and other stuff, too (we will be learning factoring and GCD's next month, and I know it will come in handy for that homework as well). Thanks for that, by the way— the pragmatic aspect of your gracious service as my new homework helper. Not the sort of thing I would have learned from Miss Marshall. In school they make us do everything the slow way. I don't have much time for homework, and now I have another useful trick up my sleeve.
    _____Still, sort-of-lying to Colleen took a lot of effort, and it expended calories that I would rather have put to better use. It is nice having a cousin as a best friend, particularly as we attend the same grade, but sometimes it stinks that she has to live right downstairs.
    _____I have to go to bed, Sir. It is late, and I need to rest for school. I know I will have good dreams. Today was a very good day, thanks in large part (actually entirely) to you. Tomorrow will not be so good. Not because you will not be helping me with my homework (though I will miss you), but because Tommy is sure to rat me out to Dad hours before Mom gets home. I already have it worked out. I am going to stay extra-long at after-school gymnastics, intentionally miss the bus, and walk home so Mom will be around in case Dad loses his cool.
    _____You must just roll your eyes at all my problems. Bear with me, Sir; you have a formidable head start, but I vow to catch up.


    _____At eleven thirty, Nelson called Carol to his desk. All morning, he had apparently worked on a reply, which lay upon his blotter, half-written, and which started, "Dear Jessica."
    _____Using his most diffident baritone, he said, "We have to talk. I have been thinking. I have decided that we should endeavor to conduct a more conventional business relationship."
    _____"Conventional in what way, sir?" she asked, nervously.
    _____"Less hierarchical. Less old-fashioned. More collegial."
    _____"Sir," she stammered, "I don't understand."
    _____"I have been thinking, and I have decided, that it would be best if we address each other normally, here at work, using our first names. I shall call you Carol, and you shall call me Nelson. So that there is no risk of our slipping, should I meet Jessica again in the future."
    _____She meekly asked, "And what about in the presence of clients, sir? I mean, Nelson? Shall I be required to call you sir in front of clients?"
    _____He replied, "No, that won't be necessary. Not given that we are colleagues."
    _____She nodded, turned to go back to her work table, and then nervously said, "Sir— Nelson— this, umm, friendship— you know, that you have developed with Jessi? Forgive my saying it, but it probably won't work out. Things of this sort seldom do."
    _____He coldly replied, "I do not need you to tell me that."
    _____She said, "Well, when it doesn't— that is, if it doesn't— and, well, what I mean is, when life is back as it was before, what then?"
    _____He knew exactly what she meant. He had been the master of the office, and she had known her place, and the formal structure had been working. Once his atavistic romance with the woman's daughter withered one way or another, as it was almost guaranteed to do, how would he and Carol revert to the traditionally hierarchical relationship that had worked before?
    _____With as level a voice as he could manage, he said, "When— if— it does not work out, and you are just a secretary again, and not also the mother of a significant other, I will have made... the necessary arrangements. In fact I am working on them today. Now, if you please, this is a change that I must insist upon, going forward. I understand it is a big change, but so be it. And, come what may, I do not see it as a temporary measure. Now, I would also appreciate some privacy today, so if you could find something to occupy your time at lunch, I would appreciate it. That is," he added with dry humor, "a request, not an order."
    _____At five to eleven, Nelson asked Carol, a bit more emphatically, yet still in the form of a request, to step out for an early lunch. Carol was still gathering her things and preparing to go, when Stanley Ableton barged in, without knocking and unannounced by the lobby receptionist. He was yelling before the door shut behind him.
    _____"You're not going to lock me out, Spencer. I won't let you do it."
    _____Nelson wearily observed, "Stanley, you're early."
    _____"Don't Stanley me. You waltzed in here on that Ph.D. of yours and found another supplier, didn't you? Your father and I had a deal, Spencer! This is completely unacceptable, and you leave me no choice but to take it up with him."
    _____Stanley realized that Nelson was not even looking at him, but grimacing right over his shoulder. He spun around and saw Carol for the first time.
    _____"Sorry, gentlemen, I'm going."
    _____"Stanley, perhaps you recall my personal assistant, Carol Turner. Carol, Stanley Ableton, one of our valued suppliers."
    _____Carol blushed and said, "Sir, pleased to see you again. Uhh, I'm going. I'll leave you with your privacy."
    _____She hurried as fast as she could without sprinting.
    _____Stanley watched her go absently, and when the door closed, he started right in again.
    _____Nelson wearily said, "Please sit down, Stan."
    _____"The hell I will. You're pushing me out, the same damned way Max Westford railroaded Hank Beckworth when you were in kindergarten."
    _____"Stan. Sit down. Please."
    _____Stanley Ableton leaned right over the desk, glaring at Nelson, and accused, "Laura called me this morning."
    _____Nelson closed his eyes and shook his head.
    _____Stanley nodded and said, "That's right. Told me you brushed her off. Won't be needing Laura's services anymore, eh? Found somewhere else to dip your wick, have you? You and Max, just peas in a pod! Damn it, Spencer, we had a quid pro quo!"
    _____Nelson patiently insisted, "You are still our exclusive automation provider, Stanley."
    _____But the old man hadn't heard him. He just kept yelling a stream of uninformed inanities, laced with invective, buttressed by ancient history that cantered dangerously toward the formation of the infamous Furniture Program and its nefarious creator, a dark shadow character by the name of Hank Beckworth.
    _____Nelson let him go on for awhile, but the old man seemed nowhere close to losing steam, so Nelson angrily cut him off with the rather harsh observation, "Laura is your granddaughter, Stan, not a quid pro quo! And you still have an exclusive deal, which you're halfway to blowing!"
    _____Stanley finally heard. He found the armrests and sat down, just gaping at Nelson as though he had never met him before. "She told me you ditched her. Stood her up, and left her high and dry, without a ride home."
    _____Nelson neither confirmed nor denied this account. He simply asked, "Is she okay?"
    _____Stanley grunted, "Pretty upset, to be honest. Almost seemed to regret she hadn't been ravaged. Don't understand her, not in the least, but there it is. The point is that when the little lady agreed to a rendezvous, she had expectations."
    _____Don't they all, Nelson reflected to himself; what is it, he wondered. that motivates the furniture girls, as they blithely proceed to sully their lives in pursuit of a climax, if not expectations? He drily sneered, "I am sorry to have disappointed her."
    _____Stanley waved a hand with irritation, and while still watching Nelson warily, he queried, "So, we still have the contract?"
    _____Nelson nodded, "We do, yes."
    _____Stanley said, "Okay then. But I have to be honest here: I don't get it. Seriously, Nelson, you shouldn't be too surprised by my overreaction. What'd you do, suddenly get religion or something?"
    _____Nelson briskly answered, "Something like that."
    _____Stanley stood up and said, "Well, Nelson, that was a decent thing you did. Letting her down easy, and in one piece, that is. Something your father'd do. You're not so unlike him after all. I owe you one, remember that."
    _____Nelson suddenly had an idea. "You don't owe me a thing, Stan. Just a misunderstanding. But there is something...."
    _____Stanley suddenly looked suspicious.
    _____Nelson chuckled, "Nothing too onerous, honestly. And it would be your choice, not a demand. My secretary, Carol Turner. Maybe you could use her."
    _____Stanley looked affronted. "You use her! I'm a happily married man!"
    _____Nelson just shook his head, "No, no. I mean maybe you could use her at your office. She is a mother of two, newly back to the workforce. Paltry formal education. Only a secondary equivalency certificate, but good street smarts, a better than average expository writer, albeit self-taught, and she picks up fast."
    _____"If she's so good, why are you looking to unload her?" Stanley wondered.
    _____Nelson replied, "Because I suspect she would thrive in a more, shall we say, collegial environment. Carol is a decent person, and she deserves better than to be at, uhh, the beck and call of, well, someone like me. She is not yet fully aware of my, shall we say, proclivities, and I would prefer to spare her that." This was all claptrap, of course. Carol had a full and comprehensive appreciation of his proclivities. Moreover, his reasons for this request had nothing to do with Carol, and everything to do with Carol's daughter.
    _____Stanley mulled it over for all of three seconds and said, "Email her resumé to my HR department. I don't like to micromanage the hiring process, but I'll put in a word, and let it go from there. Might be an opening in marketing— entry level, mind. And I still owe you one. Laura feels a little jilted now, but she'll come out much better in the end. That means a lot to me. She's my favorite granddaughter."
    _____Nelson watched him go, wondering to himself why, if the young lady was his favorite granddaughter, he had no compunction with whoring her out to his company's biggest customers.
    _____Carol returned to the office late in the afternoon, just in time to clear her desk and prepare to go home. Ten minutes later, on the way back out, Nelson handed her a letter in an envelope made of heavy, cream colored paper. Carol looked down at the envelope in her hand and had a flashback to a wedding invitation she had received in the mail, perhaps a decade ago, a wedding for a sister. She grimaced, and could not meet Nelson's eyes.

    Music is the soul's thinnest veil.
    .......................................Gregory Collins
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    Default Chapter 5: Gift, Pt. b

    _____Carol brought the cream envelope home and found no one there but Tommy. She could easily hear Billy, however, who was upstairs yelling at his father and mother. Tommy obliviously played a video game. Carol peeked into Jessica's bedroom with some trepidation, half expecting to find her on the bed nursing a fresh tanning, and with considerable relief she discerned that the girl had not yet come home from school.
    _____The picture of Nelson had been removed from the headboard.
    _____Moments later, Carol understood Jessica's absence, when she heard Billy storming down the stairs, followed closely by Gramma Mary and Grampa Bill.
    _____Of course. Carol should have foreseen this outcome. Tommy must have tattled about Nelson's visit yesterday. And now there would be hell to pay. Jessica had anticipated that this would happen, which was why she had not come home.
    _____Carol returned to the living room and angrily accused, "Tommyyyy," who without turning from the television said, "What? I didn't do anything."
    _____Billy stomped into the room and stopped up short.
    _____William, Sr. and Mary stood behind him, and looked on warily. Mary grappled for Billy's arms in an attempt to restrain him.
    _____"Let go. Lemme go!"
    _____Billy's dear Momma complied.
    _____He then assumed an icy calm. "So, woman. Did we have a visitor yesterday? While I was out workin', bustin' my ass t'put dinner on the table?"
    _____"Jessica had a visitor, yes."
    _____"Jessica. So the girly had a visitor."
    _____"Yes," Carol confirmed, "that's right."
    _____"Tommy tells me yeh told him the visitor was some kinda teacher."
    _____"A private tutor, yes."
    _____Gramma Mary admonished, "Boy, you jist leave yer six year old son outta this."
    _____Billy held up a hand to silence his mother and muttered, slurring his speech as typical, "Girly's already in freshman year, bumped up as I unnerstand it, gettin' that head o'hers filled up with even more crazy ideas than she's fit fer, an' now she's havin' a tutor over."
    _____"She needed extra help with her math."
    _____Billy muttered, "Fuck me. Girls doin' math. She got ten fingers, ain't she? Whassa girly gotta count past ten fer? Goddamnit all to hell, woman, Tommy says this math tutor looks an awful lot like that rich suit she's got hung up on her headboard."
    _____Carol glared back at Tommy, who was still playing the video game, and suddenly Billy advanced on Tommy, yanked him up off the floor, which set the boy bawling, and dragged him into Jessica's room. Carol screamed at him to let Tommy go, but Billy was busy yelling, "Come here boy, git yer butt over here and tell me if this is the high falutin' bastard done come over yesterday!"
    _____Tommy wailed incoherently while his grandmother tried to wrest him from the father, and both of them used the poor kid for tug of war until Billy suddenly stopped dead, having realized that the cover photo had been taken down from the headboard.
    _____"What the fuck? Where the fuck did it go?"
    _____"Jesus Christ, Billy, goddamn it, you don't have to rip the boy's arm out of his socket!"
    _____Now Tommy screamed, "Leave my arms alone! Don't rip my arms out!"
    _____Carol hugged the boy, and yelled, "You hurt him, Billy, you asshole, and he didn't even do anything."
    _____But Billy's apoplexy had not yet crested. "Whut the fuck's goin' on? Where'd the fuckin' girly stash that picture?"
    _____Carol yelled, "Maybe she got tired of it and took it down! What difference does it make?"
    _____"Makes a ton of difference if it was him done come over!"
    _____Grampa Bill observed, "Son, I gotta tell you, yer fuckin' raving."
    _____And that was when Carol, who knew damn well that the lie would not hold, said, "For your information, Billy Turner, I was about to tell you, before you tried to tear Tommy limb from limb, that the math tutor who came over is, indeed, Dr. Spencer."
    _____Suddenly one could have heard a pin drop. Even Tommy felt the tension, though he could barely comprehend it, and went mute.
    _____Billy's eyes narrowed to slits. "Whut?"
    _____"You heard. For godsakes, Billy, close your mouth; you're drawing flies."
    _____"You brought that twenty-six year old ivy league snotnosed bastard in here to meet our daughter?"
    _____"Not here to her bedroom. To the kitchen. For her math. Just to help her with her math. Christ, Billy, he's a math expert."
    _____"Bullshit! Yeh told us he's a doctor!"
    _____"A doctor of mathematics. I chaperoned. They got along fine, and he was very helpful."
    _____"Yeah, I bet he was!"
    _____Behind him, Gramma Mary's eyes sparkled.
    _____Carol persisted, "You know, we are very fortunate that he's willing to do it. He usually charges much more than we could ever afford, and he did it for free."
    _____"Not exactly free, woman! What with you sendin' him all them goddamn pictures!"
    _____"Oh, those. Well, he's returned the only existing copies, so no harm done."
    _____Grampa Bill barked, "What the hell'd he do that fer?"
    _____"I suppose he decided it would be best not to have them around the office after all. Too many people coming and going, guys who might take them and do who-knows-what. So he said thanks but no thanks, and gave the CD back. Just as well, really. I've had qualms since the moment I took those pictures. Don't know what came over me, to be honest."
    _____Billy, far too drunk to be able to conceal a naked avarice that Carol didn't like at all, angrily demanded, "And you got 'em? The only copies?"
    _____Carol replied, "I don't have them. Dr. Spencer gave them to Jessi."
    _____Grampa Bill yelled, "He did whut? Well where in hell's tarnation are they now? Call the missy in here, and get'em back!"
    _____Carol's eyes turned to slits as she shrewdly realized that the upstanding gentlemen of the house had been checking the camera over the weekend for a reason. She realized that the subtext introduced by Uncle Phil that night, with respect to Internet teen modeling sites, had taken an unhealthy hold in the addled imaginations of the household's enterprising males.
    _____Grampa Bill muttered, "By the way, woman, didn't rightly appreciate you goin' off and clearin' out the camera memory so fast, yeh know."
    _____Gramma Mary, who to Carol's relief appeared to have taken her side in the matter, icily demanded, "And why is that, you old coot?"
    _____He gave a start, as though aware for the first time that he'd been talking aloud. He forced a shrug and said, "Well, nuthin, woman. All I'm sayin' is yeh shouldn't delete ever'thin' like that, without bein' sure there's backups."
    _____Gramma Mary glared, "Backups? O'yer most precious granddaughter all done up in her whatsis?"
    _____Grampa Bill tugged at his collar.
    _____Meanwhile Billy angrily clenched his fists and said, "So woman, yer telling me this dizzy bastard gave the only copies to a know-nuthin' brat, and you just let her keep'em."
    _____Carol realized this altercation definitely had the potential to turn out badly. But at least the larger point— that Nelson Spencer had been to the house to court their daughter— appeared to have taken a back seat to more mercantile concerns, and Carol did begin to wonder— and grow angry about— the very few practical uses that Billy, his horny father, and his scumbag brothers could have had for those pictures of Jessica.
    _____She answered, "Yes, that's about right. He gave the pictures back to our daughter. And what of it? They are, after all, her pictures."
    _____Billy snarled, "No, they ain't! They was on her granddaddy's camera!"
    _____Carol chuckled, "Then take some pictures of her granddaddy."
    _____Billy ground his teeth, laboring at a comeback, and gave up. Easier, to his mind, to simply take his belt off, and he was building up to that. "Well, where's she hidin' 'em?"
    _____"She's not. She gouged a dozen scratches out of the CD and trashed it. The garbage truck came this morning, and hauled it away. No more CD, and bye-bye, pictures."
    _____Jessica's grandfather looked horrified by this news.
    _____Billy growled, "Well, the girly's just gonna have to make some more, then, ain't she?"
    _____"Oh, no she ain't!" stated Jessica, standing at the bedroom doorway in her gym sweats. "And get the fuck out of my room, all of you!"
    _____Billy roared, "Where the fuck've yeh been, tramp!"
    _____"What does it look like?"
    _____"Looks like you could'a been God knows where, an' pretendin' to be at gym, that's where! You know enough maths fer gettin' on with, girly, an' yeh don' need no more tutors, neither, what's it Dr. Joe College Spencer or anyone else, yeh hear?"
    _____Jessica cast a stricken glance at her mother, who imperceptibly shook her head with a tiny smile. Jessica, thus emboldened, yelled back, "I will learn as much math as I want, from anyone who will teach me!"
    _____"Girly, yeh done mouthed off one time too many. Get yer ass up on that there bed for a whupping!" he roared, fumbling with his belt.
    _____Gramma Mary made an appalled protest, and Grampa Bill said, "Boy, now put a lid on it, yeh hear?"
    _____Billy fumbled with his belt loops, utterly beside himself.
    _____Jessica defiantly yelled, "What for? What for?"
    _____"Fer sassin' yer Daddy, that's whut! Get that tush o'yours over here, and get them sweats off, too! Jist see if you sneak some smarmy Joe College tutor around this house behind m'back ever again! I might have to put food on the table," he rambled, still pulling his belt off, "but I got eyes and ears in this place, and don't you dizzy bitches ever fergit it! Yer fuckin' Mama might be in cahoots, bringin' that fancy son of a bitch around to paw my little girl, but Tommy'll tell me whut, even if yer mama don't—"
    _____He never finished. Suddenly everyone saw steam come out of Jessica's ears, and she shrieked in a high, piercing soprano.
    _____Tommy heard it too, clear through his headphones, and he turned just in time to see his big sister run at him with a carnivorous snarl, launch herself into mid-air, and tackle him hard enough to knock the wind out of him.
    _____By rights it should have been a fair fight. Jessica had close to a decade on Tommy, but she stood less than five feet tall, and due to ritualistically intense exercise, she weighed barely eighty pounds. Tommy, all of six years old, had already committed himself to a sedentary lifestyle, and weighed nearly as much as his sister. Tommy did manage to pull Jessica into a headlock, but she punched and kicked every part of him that she could reach, with all four limbs simultaneously, a frenzied barrage against which Tommy had no hope of defense. Their mother and grandmother had to pull them apart.
    _____Grampa Bill, Sr. tended to wailing, bleeding Tommy, while the women struggled to contain Jessica.
    _____Billy caught up with events, finally having pulled his belt off, and roared, "Now yeh gone an' done it; yer gettin' double!"
    _____Jessica defiantly screamed, "Fine! And my dear Grampa Bill can get his fucking camera to capture it for posterity!"