First in the Class, Part 1

(by SSTORYMAN, 11 October 1998)


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    This fictional account contains adult language and explicitly sexual
themes. If such language and themes offend you, please do not read further.
Copyright 1998 by SSTORYMAN. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to
reproduce this story in any form and for any purpose as long as this notice is
reproduced and no financial remuneration is received, directly or indirectly,
by the person reproducing it.

    FIRST IN THE CLASS

    1. Slow Starter.

    Emily Miller left the administration building. The orientation was over.
It was a hot, hazy August afternoon. She took a deep breath. This paralegal
program wouldn't be easy!

    Emily was 23. She had a two-year associate degree from the community
college. Now, two years later, she was back again. Sometimes she wondered why
she enrolled in the paralegal program. Tuition was expensive, and classes were
held in the evenings, meaning there'd be little time for anything but classes
and studying. Each session was three hours, from six to night, two nights
every week for nine months. She'd probably need two more nights each week to
complete the assignments. That meant, for the next nine months, she'd be very
busy and very broke!

    Her mother wasn't excited about Emily getting more schooling. Instead, she
wanted Emily to get married. Emily wasn't opposed, assuming the right guy came
along, but there'd be little opportunity for a social life while in the
program. Her mother would have to live with it. And so would Emily.

    She scrutinized the other students leaving the administration building.
Twenty-five people were in the program. They'd spend lots of time together
over the next nine months. Eventually some would become her friends. "Which
ones?" she wondered. Making friends was not easy for Emily. She was shy, too
shy for her own good. That was the final reason she hesitated to enroll in the
program. She hated new situations, and this would definitely be one!

    Emily had never been an outstanding student. Getting her two-year
associate degree was the hardest thing she'd ever done. With these negatives,
why did she sign up? It was because of her job at Capital Bank! She hated it.
She didn't want to work there the rest of her life. Paralegals were in demand,
and starting salaries were better than her prospects at the bank.

    On Tuesday they'd start classes. Some might drop out, but around 20 of
them would ultimately earn their paralegal certificates. Emily desperately
hoped she'd be one of the finishers.

    A social hour had followed the orientation session. Emily talked to a few
of the students over doughnuts and coffee. Twenty were women and five were
men. Her mother wouldn't like that ratio, either. The students ranged in age
from 20 to 45, all looking for a new career in law.

    As Emily brooded in the parking lot, a woman walked up. Emily recognized
her. She was Vicki Stewart. Emily'd talked with her at the social. She was
seriously pretty, blond, slender, and about Emily's age. At five six, Vicki
was much shorter than Emily. But at over six feet, Emily towered over most
other women. Feeling too tall contributed to her shyness.

    "Emily, are you excited?" Vicki gushed. Her unrestrained enthusiasm was
contagious.

    "Yes, I am," she answered shyly. "It'll be hard, but exciting. I'm
pumped!"

    "Me, too," Vicki agreed. "The job market for paralegals is so good! See
you at class on Tuesday. Six o'clock sharp!" She flashed a smile and started
toward her car. Suddenly, she stopped. "I'm thinking about forming a study
group to get together each week and study the class materials. Are you
interested?"

    "Sure," Emily replied cautiously. "I'd love to be in a study group. But
you may not want me," she added timidly. "I'm not a very good student. I'll
never be first in the class."

    "It doesn't matter," came the confident reply. "None of us are brilliant,
or we'd be in law school instead of this program." Her warm smile put Emily at
ease. "I'm talking to others, too. No more than five of us. I'll let you
know."

    "Great," Emily answered. "Thanks. See you Tuesday night, then."

    Students continued to drift into the parking lot. These people would be
Emily's companions for nine months. Together, they'd chart a new course for
the rest of their lives.

   
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    "How was orientation?" Emily's mom was watching a lame romantic comedy on
HBO.

    "Fine, Mom," she replied. "The paralegal program is so cool! I think I'll
like the other students, too. They seem really nice."

    "That's good," her mother said without emotion, looking at the screen.

    Dana Miller was 42 years old. She wasn't bad looking. In fact, her
physical appearance was quite attractive. Like her daughter, she'd always been
slender, though she'd gained a few pounds after hitting 40. Even so, she
retained a competitive figure. Red hair and freckles gave her a youthful
appearance. She looked younger than her 42 years, and she knew it. But it
galled her she was so unlucky in love. She divorced Emily's father when Emily
was eight. Ever since, she wanted a serious relationship. She often dated, but
the relationships never went anywhere. As a result, she was bitter. It was a
vicious circle. Despite good looks, bitterness made her less attractive. She
wanted a man, but couldn't get one to stick in a relationship. Due to her own
bad luck, she wanted Emily to marry before it was too late. But the boys Emily
liked were never good enough for her. Dana had a love-hate thing when it came
to the male of the species.

    "I'll like the program," Emily reiterated, trying to get her mother's
attention. "Today we got an overview of the classes. It'll be interesting.
Plus, the other students seem really friendly."

    Dana looked at her daughter standing in the doorway. Emily was a younger
version of her mother, tall and thin, with bouncy red hair, a reddish
complexion and freckles. She had a remarkably pretty face. Her big smile,
framing large white teeth, was delightful.. Her figure wasn't outstanding, but
it wasn't bad, either. For a man who liked thin women, Emily was very
attractive. So, Dana wondered, why didn't her daughter have a boyfriend?
Shyness was the problem, Dana believed.

    "How many in the class are men?" Dana asked pointedly.

    "Only about five," Emily admitted. She'd heard it before. Find yourself a
man, get involved, and move out of the house before it's too late.

    "Mom, I'm studying for a new profession," she explained patiently. "I'm
not looking for love in this program, for God's sake."

    Dana frowned. "You're too old to still live at home," she sighed. "I'm not
sure this paralegal program is a good idea. It'll consume you. If you must
spend time doing something, why can't it be something that gives you a shot at
meeting guys?"

    Emily shook her head. "Mom, you're incorrigible. I'm going to my room to
study. I've got class on Tuesday night!"

    Dana groaned as Emily left the room. She turned back to the TV. Looking
for love in all the wrong places, she sighed. She wished her daughter would
get a life!

   
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    On Tuesday, classes started. The first class was four weeks long, called
"Introduction to the Legal System." Unfortunately, the lecturer was boring and
his materials impenetrable. The first hour and a half dragged. Emily was
elated when the professor announced a fifteen minute break at seven thirty.

    She slowly wandered into the building lobby. Some students stood around
the coffee and pop machines, while others congregated outside. The late summer
weather was gorgeous, but that wasn't why they went outside. It was because
they smoked. Emily was surprised. So many of her classmates seemed to be
smokers!

    She bought some coffee and went out. Not that she smoked. She'd didn't. In
fact, she'd never smoked. Her mother was against smoking. She would never have
permitted Emily to try it. Nevertheless, most of the action was outside, and
Emily wanted to be out there.

    She looked around at the dozen people standing around smoking, talking and
laughing. She noticed Vicki Stewart, the girl from orientation. Unfortunately,
Vicki obviously smoked. Emily was sorry. It was a smelly habit! But so far
Vicki was the only friend she'd made. The gentle breeze would dissipate the
second-hand smoke, so she decided to approach Vicki's group.

    "Hi, Emily!" Vicki said enthusiastically. Her streaked blond hair covered
her shoulders. She held a can of Diet Pepsi in one hand and a lit cigarette in
the other. "How's it going?"

    "I'm fine," Emily smiled. She sipped her coffee. "What do you think of the
first class?"

    "It's a bitch," Vicki laughed. The other girls laughed with her. "Have you
guys met Emily Miller?" she asked them. They said no. "Then let me introduce
you," she offered.

    In sequence, Vicki presented Emily to her smoking companions. Always
cognizant of how tall women were, Emily looked them over. As usual, she was
taller than any of them. There was Tisha Taylor, a cute, slightly heavy-set
brunette with glasses. Emily guessed Tisha was mid twenties, about five foot
seven. Next was Melissa Wear, another brunette, about the same age, but with a
much slighter build. Melissa was five foot four. Finally, there was Amy Isham,
the shortest, no more than five two. She had short blond hair and a big smile.
In addition to being the shortest, Amy seemed the youngest. All the girls
smoked. Yech, thought Emily.

    Tisha raised her cigarette to her lips. "Emily, do you smoke, too?" she
asked with a smile before beginning a long, luxurious drag.

    "No," Emily said politely. She watched Tisha inhale the smoke deep into
her lungs.

    "Too bad," she sighed, releasing smoke simultaneously from her lips and
nostrils while she talked. Tisha then returned her cigarette to her mouth for
another puff.

    Emily ignored Tisha's strange comment. Why was it "too bad" she didn't
smoke? "No, I don't," she repeated. "I've never tried it." She watched Tisha
push another long stream of smoke into the air. "But obviously all you guys
do," she added, making polite conversation.

    "Yeah," sighed Melissa. "And thank God we get a break half-way through the
damn class!" She drew on her cigarette. "I was starting to get pretty itchy in
there," she laughed.

    "Yeah, no kidding," Vicki agreed. "I was dying." She tipped her head and
slowly exhaled into the gentle breeze.

    Emily had obviously seen people smoke before. But she'd never seen anyone
smoke quite like Vicki did. Each time she inhaled, she held the smoke in her
lungs forever. Each exhale followed its corresponding inhale by almost ten
seconds. Despite interminably long holds, Vicki's lips released a large volume
of smoke. Emily frowned. Smoking that way isn't good for you! It probably
indicated being seriously addicted to nicotine. Too bad for Vicki.

    Vicki glanced at her watch during a hard, last drag. "Hey," she said,
holding the smoke inside after inhaling. "We've still got six minutes. There's
time for another one." Tipping her head, she blew more smoke. She dropped her
cigarette to the ground and lit a second one. Such compulsive behavior
suggested to Emily that Vicki couldn't control her addiction to nicotine.

    As Vicki started her second cigarette, most students began walking inside.
But all of Vicki's companions followed her lead. Each of them also immediately
lit up a second time.

    "I can use another cigarette," Amy grinned. "Shit, why not?" Her cigarette
was only two-thirds gone, but she dropped it to the ground, reached into her
pocket for her pack, shook one out, and lit up again. Melissa and Tisha did
likewise.

    Emily looked at her watch. "Shouldn't we go in?" she asked nervously.

    "Nah," Vicki smiled. She paused to exhale. "He won't start the lecture
right away. According to my watch, we have a couple more minutes. I'm gonna
finish my cigarette."

    The others nodded in agreement. Cognizant of the time, they smoked
quickly. Emily was uncomfortable. Because she couldn't smoke with them, she
felt awkward. But she didn't want to leave, either. She quietly waited for the
stupid smokers to finish their little indulgence.

    They finally did and, after they returned to the classroom, the balance of
the lecture proved equally tedious. Emily knew that to understand the
materials she'd need to study the textbook carefully. After class she walked
out with Vicki and some others. Vicki was upbeat. "I'll call you about the
study group. I mentioned it to some others. It'll be a good group. We'll need
it," she sighed, rolling her eyes in the direction of the classroom.

    "You're right," Emily agreed. "He talks awful fast. I had trouble
following."

    "Me, too," Vicki agreed. They reached the back door and walked into the
open air. Vicki's hand plunged into her purse. She removed a cigarette. "A
study group will be key," she said with a smile, waiting for a moment before
lighting up. "Your phone number is on the class list. I'll call you to figure
out when and where to meet."

    "Okay," Emily said, watching Vicki light up. "See you Thursday."

    On Wednesday night Emily studied long and hard. She wanted to be
thoroughly familiar with the text before Thursday's lecture. As a result of
her studying, the next class was easier and more interesting. The studying
helped, though Emily still didn't have a handle on all the concepts. During
Thursday's break, she purposely stayed indoors. She liked Vicki, but didn't
like being in a group where everyone smoked. She didn't want to endorse the
activity by her presence. Instead, she hung out in the student lounge, trying
to be friendly with the non-smokers. She asked one girl about the study group
idea. The woman looked blankly at Emily.

    "Why in hell would I be in a study group?" she asked huffily. "I don't
want to help anyone else. This is competitive, you know. I'm doing fine on my
own. Thanks anyway."

    Emily was chagrined. After the break, the rest of the class was hard as
hell! Following class, she walked out alone. Seeing Vicki in the parking lot,
she waved. They didn't speak.

    Friday night Emily sat in her bedroom reading the textbook. She was
becoming increasingly worried. It was complicated! Next week was the first
quiz. She was sweating bullets. She'd never be ready. She poured another cup
of coffee and applied herself to the book.

    "Phone's for you," her mother yelled upstairs. "It's someone named Vicki."

    Emily jumped. Then she remembered. It was about the study group!

    "Hello?" Emily said.

    "You ditched me Thursday night," said the voice on the line with
amusement. "During the break, you didn't come out and say hi. It's because I
smoke, isn't it?"

    Emily lied. "No, I was talking with some others in the lounge. I wasn't
ditching you."

    "Whatever," came the good-natured reply. "Anyway, I'm calling about the
study group. Are you still interested?"

    Emily thought. The idea of getting together with Vicki and her smoking
friends wasn't appealing. Vicki probably invited the students she knew best.
That meant smokers. On the other hand, Emily was desperate. She needed help.
She took a deep breath and answered.

    "Yeah, I'm still interested."

    "Okay. My place, tomorrow, Saturday afternoon, at two," Vicki said
authoritatively. "We'll meet for two hours and go over the review problems.
We'll be done by four. I invited four people, including you."

    Emily hesitated. Three hours in a smoke filled room! "Who else is coming?"

    "Tisha, Amy, you, me, and Steve Conrad. Do you know him?"

    Emily thought. "I'm not sure. Is he one of your ...."

    "One of my smoking friends?" Vicki laughed. "No, Steve sits beside me in
class. I don't think he smokes. But he's interested in the study group." Her
voice took on a serious tone. "Are you worried about the smoke?" she asked
sincerely.

    "Yeah, a little," Emily admitted. "I'm not used to being around people who
smoke."

    "I understand," Vicki said. "I used to be that way. I'll tell you what. We
won't smoke while we study. We'll study in my living room. Amy, Tisha and I
will go in the kitchen if we need a cigarette. Is that a deal?"

    "That'd be great," Emily confirmed. "But you don't have to do it on my
account."

    "It's no problem," her friend said. "I want you and Steve to be
comfortable. We all need help, Emily. I'm sensitive to people being
uncomfortable about my smoking. I know I smoke too much. But we'll keep it
under control. It'll be fine."

    "Okay," Emily said brightly. "Just give me directions."

    The next day Emily arrived at Vicki's a few minutes before two. It was a
large, three bedroom duplex with a yard and a garage. The rooms were huge, and
the house nicely decorated. Emily guessed it was expensive to rent. She asked
Vicki how she afforded it.

    "It's my parents' place," she confided with a chuckle. "It's my dad's
investment. He rents it, but he lets me live here rent free while I'm in the
program. He's excited about me going to school. It's a way to encourage me, I
think."

    The study group proved fruitful. Steve Conrad was nice, also in his
mid-twenties. Like the others, he wanted to do well in the paralegal program.
He was handsome, but too short for Emily's taste. He was only five nine. Not
that Emily expected guys to be interested in her. But she knew her mother
would want a full report.

    As promised, Vicki, Tisha and Amy smoked only in the kitchen. They took
two breaks during the two hour session. Emily and Steve talked in the living
room while the other three girls smoked and chatted at the kitchen table.

    "So, why are you in the program, Emily?" he asked.

    "I hate my job at Capital Bank," she explained. "I want a better job."

    "What does your husband think about you studying all the time?"

    "Oh, I'm not married," she replied shyly.

    "That's a surprise," Steve said with a smile. "A pretty girl like you? At
least you must be living with someone."

    "No, I live with my mom. I don't date much," she admitted shyly. "I was
always the tallest girl in my class. I was six feet by ninth grade. I shot up
early. Boys never liked me because of my height. I've always been
self-conscious about it. I suppose that's why I'm so shy. Because of my
height."

    "Wow," Steve whistled. "That's hard to believe. You're very pretty, Emily.
I'm not trying to flatter you. It's true. You look like a supermodel. Plus,
your red hair and freckles are cute." He paused. "I should fix you up with my
roommate."

    "Why?" Emily asked.

    "Bob is six foot five. He's really tall, and he's a great guy. We've lived
together since the beginning of the summer. He likes tall girls, and he's not
seeing anyone. He manages a music store on the north end of town. Are you
interested in a blind date?"

    "Maybe not," she answered hesitantly. "I spend most of my time studying
and working. But thanks for asking. I'm flattered."

    "No problem. Let me know if you change your mind. I'd love to fix you up."

    The three smokers finally returned from the kitchen. Amy and Tisha plopped
onto the floor, while Vicki sat demurely in a chair. She absent-mindedly
tipped her blond head back and released a reluctant stream of smoke through
pursed lips, though she finished her cigarette in the kitchen fifteen seconds
earlier. Oh, my God, Emily thought, that girl inhales too much when she
smokes!

    Emily didn't tell her mom about the date offer. She didn't have time, and
anyway, dating made her nervous. Still, she was flattered Steve thought his
roommate might be interested in her.

    During the next three weeks the study group continued to meet, falling
into a comfortable routine. They met each Saturday and Wednesday. Vicki hosted
the gatherings. Her duplex was the only place big enough to comfortably hold
the group. They slowly became better acquainted. Emily found herself becoming
less uncomfortable with ambient cigarette smoke. In fact, she felt sorry for
Vicki, Tisha and Amy, that they always had to smoke in the kitchen. She talked
with Steve about it. By their fourth Saturday session, Emily and Steve
announced to the three smokers they'd decided it was okay if they smoked in
the living room while they studied. Tisha, Amy and Vicki were ecstatic!

    "That is so nice," Vicki said sincerely. "Thank you. I really appreciate
this, and I'm sure Tisha and Amy do, too. We won't take it for granted. We'll
try not to abuse the privilege."

    "Don't be silly," Emily replied. "It's your house. You should be allowed
to smoke anywhere you want in your own house if it makes you more comfortable.
Steve and I shouldn't stand in your way if you want to smoke in here."

    Recognizing the sacrifice of this concession, Vicki spontaneously hugged
Emily. When they embraced, Emily perceived the strong smell of smoke on
Vicki's hair and clothes. For some reason, it no longer smelled bad. She
realized she was becoming less sensitive about its smell.


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