Teacher's Pet, Part 1

(by puffery@prodigy.com (now quin_chris@hotmail.com), 05 September 1996)


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From Puffery@prodigy.com Mon Sep  9 03:18 EDT 1996
Date: Mon,  9 Sep 1996 02:14:39, -0500
Subject: Teacher's Pet (1 of 2)

Mr. Armstrong was neither obviously homely nor especially good 
looking.  Not that I'd ever even given it a thought either way.  For 
God's sakes, he was probably old enough to be my father.  For that 
matter, he even looked a little like my father, as best as I could 
tell that is, from my dad's last Army photos.  The ones mom took 
before his final, horrible tour of duty.

Growing up back then was so much simpler than today.  Doors weren't 
locked.  Technological breakthroughs were yo-yo's that glowed.  Party 
(phone) lines made everything public including stuff that probably 
shouldn't have been.  On the other hand, there wasn't all that much 
that shouldn't have been back then either.  The only thing really out 
of the ordinary for me growing up was our single parent household.  
What few such homes there were then, were like ours, more likely to 
be headed by widows than divorcees.  Another mark of the times.

Being a female and an only child, I just naturally evolved early on 
into being my mom's best friend.  It was a sisterly relationship as 
long back as I can remember.  We did most everything together.  
Church.  Picnics.  Meals.  Vacations.  Even shared dreams.  Mom was 
from a pretty straight laced family - no smoking, little drinking - 
so our behavior was always high road.  We shared a kind of 
inseparable bond that I took for granted.  For granted that is until 
half way through my sophomore year in high school.  Then there was 
Art.

Before jumping to any hormonal conclusions about me, hold on a minute.
  Art wasn't my squeeze; he was mom's.  I can't say whether I really 
loathed him at the time or whether I just lashed out reflexively.  
Regardless, my behavior was less than exemplary.  I was rude to his 
face and insulting behind his back.  In reality, like him or not, he 
was insignificant.  It was mom I was ranting at.  We both knew that.  
I just drew more blood doing it this way.  

By that pre-Junior summer I'd begun to mellow.  Perpetuating wrath 
takes a lot of work particularly when its eye has waned.  My summer 
job bagging at Safeway ... a pioneering bag "girl" ... distracted as 
well.  The frequent sleepovers at my friends' that mom 
enthusiastically endorsed, further diluted.  By fall, mom and Art 
were engaged and I was actually sort of happy for them.  The 
umbilical cord cut and all that stuff, I suppose.  They'd certainly 
both grown up a lot in the past year too I'd concluded.

Now so where was I.  Oh yes.  Mr. Armstrong.  Just before the 
holidays he asked me to stay after class for a minute.  I took a seat 
at the front of the room and waited as the classroom emptied.  Rather 
than remaining behind his imperious desk he took the chair next to 
mind.  "Andrea" he said. "Each spring semester I teach a special 
accelerated Algebra course for freshman who've fallen behind and 
still want to take Geometry their Sophomore year.  It's a fairly 
intense course and I need an outstanding upperclassman to help tutor 
and correct papers.  Since you're already a lock for Stanford and 
President of the FTA, I thought you'd be a natural.  Interested?"

My mouth said yes before my brain went into action.  Kicking into 
gear I followed up with "Yes, but ...".  The buts were plentiful but 
amorphous.  "Which days?  What hours?  Where?  Why me?"  My 
protestations about whether I was truly qualified were vacuous.  I 
knew I was and so did he or he wouldn't have asked me.  I just wanted 
to hear how good he thought I was a couple more times.

That final week before the holidays I spent most every evening after 
school in his classroom learning the groundrules and logistics.  It 
certainly was going to be pretty intense.  The class would be offered 
precisely during this three thirty to five time frame and it would 
meet three times a week.  My Tuesday FTA meetings would be unaffected 
but even if they had been, I'm not sure that I would have cared.  
They were routine.  This was exciting.

As probably the last two laggards out of the building for Christmas 
break on the 21st, we chatted on the front steps.  With every word, 
we watched our warm breath transform into little vapor clouds.  In 
parting, my final comment was "I'm really excited about this project. 
 I don't know how I can wait two weeks to continue."   

And his retort built upon the point.  "If you really feel that way, 
then don't wait.  Spend some time over the holidays teaching algebra 
to a younger neighbor.  For that matter if you need more coaching, 
come on over to my place.  I'm not going anywhere special this year." 
 And with that he jotted an address down that was little more than a 
mile from my home.  Not certain just what to say, I nodded, smiled, 
and sputtered out something non-committal that might have passed for 
"thanks".

The next few days saw Christmas, presents, Midnight Services, 
caroling, and even a few snow flakes.  The love birds across the 
table and the less lucky one upon it.  New Year's Eve would be their 
first anniversary and superfluous overstates my presence in the scene.
  Unlike months back however, the pain was non-existent.  I was 
pretty much checked out myself.  And peculiarly, dropping by Mr. 
Armstrong's was never a distant thought.  I wanted to do it.  I knew 
I would do it.  I just wasn't quite sure why.

The day after Christmas I meandered about purposelessly.  I thought 
of going over to Mr. Armstrong's.  I though of almost nothing else.  
Yet on the final ballot I deferred.  I'd wait one more day.  And 
somehow I did.  Around two on the 27th I left the house and a note to 
mom behind.  "Be back late.  Don't wait dinner."  A year ago that 
would have caused alarm.  This year just happy bedsprings.

The walk down to the bluff that Mr. Armstrong's home overlooked just 
happened.  I didn't remember it then.  I don't remember it now.  
Suddenly I was just there on the porch.  I didn't need to wrap on the 
door a second time.  It swung open to my rotely lunging fist.  Caught 
slightly offguard, I probably blushed just a little, while uttering a 
profoundly juvenile "Hi!".  

"Come in.  Come in." he responded with obvious warmth and sincerity 
as he said "Let me take your coat."  I found myself already relaxing. 
 The home was neither large nor pretentious but it offered a 
magnificent view of the harbor down below.  "Here.  Take this chair 
by the window" he said.  "This view is my most treasured possession, 
if you can call it that" he continued "and I've aligned this room to 
take full advantage."  

I welcomed his chivalry and accepted the offered chair.  Clearly it 
was his personal favorite what with satellite tables and a hassock.  
He slid behind my chair to the right and picked up something, only 
then walking to the mirror-reflective chair angled off the left side 
of the window.  What he'd just retrieved was a pipe and accompanying 
paraphernalia. My mouth emitted "I didn't know that you smoked" to 
the instantaneous embarrassment of my brain.  

"Well now I guess that you do" he responded smiling.  "Do you mind?" 
he continued.

"Oh, of course not" I replied.  After all this was a time when 
smokers substantially outnumbered non-smokers, particularly among men,
 and women were quickly closing the gap.  I held little judgment 
either way.  "It's just that usually I can smell smoke on people that 
I'm around and I've never smelled it on you."

"That's quite easy to explain" he retorted.  I'm an unusually 
disciplined smoker.  I never smoke at school and seldom outside my 
home.  When I'm here however, as they say 'a man's home is his 
castle' and in my castle I choose to smoke.  And what about you?  
Lately it seems that I see cigarettes bulging out of more girls' 
purses than not.  If you smoke, please do.  I'm hardly one to 
criticize."

"Oh no.  No thank you.  I've tried it a few of times of course but 
it's just never been something that I've had any desire to do.  But I 
could care less about others smoking.  Lots of my friends do."

"Well then.  What other hospitality may I offer you?  Coke?  A glass 
of wine?  Plain old ice water?  What is young Andrea's pleasure today?
" he inquired in a most gallant manner."

"Oh, actually Mr. Armstrong the water sounds great." I said.

"By all means" he responded while quickly rising, "but on one 
condition.  Mr. Armstrong works at school.  Steven lives in this 
house.  I know it might be a little confusing but I really hate being 
called Mr. Armstrong in my own home.  Do you think Steven is doable?" 
he concluded.  

"Sure, I'll try" I responded then quite conspicuously, I'm sure, 
avoided any moniker for him for the remainder of the day.  

He produced a wine tumbler with several miniature ice cubes floating 
amid bubbles.  "I hope you don't mind sparkling water" he said. "It's 
just so much more festive during the holiday season, don't you think?
"  Realistically it was nothing I'd ever thought about but if he said 
so, I was pretty much inclined to agree.

Where the afternoon went I'll never know.  Somewhere along the line 
we did talk about the backgrounds of a couple of the students we'd be 
having but for the most part we just skipped from one area of 
interest to another.  Places we'd been.  Places we wanted to go.  My 
initial temerity disappeared unnoticed as we talked.  What with my 
many years as my mother's peer partner, my conversational skills were 
well elevated above the level that you would typically associate with 
a soon-to-be seventeen year old.  

Only the rumblings in my stomach spoke of the hour but the voice was 
increasingly audible.  Though long dark, the realization that it was 
now nearing eight, a fact that my watch revealed, took me totally 
aback.  An "Oh my God" captured the essence of my dismay as I 
hurriedly professed my need to leave.  Concurrently expressing my 
thanks for the afternoon (and evening), our upcoming adventure, and 
my need for speed, I was struck frozen by the subtle but tender 
caress he delivered as he helped me on with my coat.  

"Relax.  I'll give you a lift", he said.  I did and he did.  Within 
five minutes we were already in front of my house and I was relieved 
to see it dark.  They were either not home or otherwise occupied.  
Either presented cover.  He came around to open my door and once 
again I expressed my thanks.  Looking hard into my eyes he responded 
"The pleasure was equally mine.  You're mature well beyond your years.
  You're welcome to visit me anytime.  Like I said earlier, I'm home 
for the holidays."  And giving my hand a gentle squeeze, he departed 
with "See you soon."  

The next day I was in a complete quandary.  I was mind numbing 
desperate to go back over to his house.  Closing my eyes he was no 
longer so nondescript.  He was easily 6'2" and runner lean.  
Symmetric little hairline recesses were in clear evidence but were 
rendered insignificant by his Mediterranean blue eyes.  There was 
something about men with blue eyes that had always mesmerized me.  

Committed to not dropping by a second day in a row, I called up my 
friend Sheila and she came by and picked me up.  We went to the 
Coffee Corral at my suggestion and took a back table.  Try as I might,
 I couldn't bring myself to get level with her and she knew it.  I 
beat around the bush about there was this guy I kind of liked but my 
mysteriousness rightfully bored her.  She sipped coke, smoked one 
Kent after another, and listened with excusable obtuseness to my 
vagaries.

Finally I felt the courage building.  I ordered two more cokes, took 
a deep breath, and sat up erect.  Mouth open to speak instead I found 
myself reaching for her cigarettes.  With a "May I?" met by a shrug, 
I proceeded to take one, awkwardly placed it between my lips, struck 
a match, and gingerly lit it.  That disenchanting rush that I'd 
experienced a few times before filled my mouth and I spat the smoke 
out.  Smoking's magic remained for the moment a mystery.

Sheila watched amusingly and said simply "You.  With a cigarette.  Oh,
 what you're not telling me has got a be a doozy.  Come clean.  I'm 
all ears."  And so the secrecy of my sudden crush was stripped away 
amid threat of death for repeating it.  Here a "You're kidding!"  
There a "No way!"  And interspersed a "For God's sake you look like a 
ten year old.  If your going to smoke my cigarettes, please don't 
embarrass me.  Here, at least let me show you what to do."  Smoking 
cigarettes hadn't seemed to be one of my purposes when the day 
started out but for some reason I accepted the lessons eagerly and 
even accepted a second cigarette for continued coaching.  

It was nearly dinner time when I returned home.  My mission had been 
accomplished thanks to Sheila's afternoon of companionship.  I'd 
refrained from visiting Steven.  Mr. Armstrong.  Steven.  Whoever.  A 
quiet evening at home and then maybe a visit tomorrow wouldn't look 
so obvious.  Just a quiet evening.

Too quiet an evening.  No one home again.  Empty house.  Swirling 
thoughts.  Steven's face.  Steven's touch.  Cigarette.  Just for an 
hour.  Just to say hello.  Can't stay.  In the neighborhood.  Pipe 
tobacco smells so good.  The harbor lights are hypnotizing.  One 
glass of wine would be quite nice.  Mendelsohn, yes a lot.  Cigarette 
box on the table.  Why thank you, yes I will.  Touch his hand that 
cups the match.  Lost within those two blue lakes.  Of course I'll 
have another Chablis.  Gentle touch upon my cheek.

"Mom!  When did you get home." I shrieked.

"Oh honey.  I didn't mean to startle you but you were so obviously 
restless and dreaming.  I just wanted to make sure that you got into 
bed so you'd get a good night's rest.  The couch is no place to spend 
the night.  Art's company had a little holiday function.  Didn't you 
see the note that I left on the kitchen table?" 

Morning came with little distinction between dream and reality.  Mom 
may have awakened me physically but the dream lived in my cells.  
Today I will see him again.  Today I will be unintimidated.  Today he 
is just Steven.  And I just Andrea.  Friends.  Today I'm the 
offspring of my own imagination ... whatever the hell that means.  I 
read it somewhere.  

Just after ten I set out for the store with a very specific plan in 
mind.  I bought cold cuts, French bread, brie, grapes, and a small 
container of pate.  With a minimal amount of preparation I created a 
more than passable gourmet picnic basket.  The basic question however 
to be asked was "was I going to see grandma or the big bad wolf?"  
The answer was apparent.  Just not yet admitted. 

I arrived at Steven's to find the front door slightly ajar.  My 
"Anyone home?" produced an echo quick "Come on in.  I'm out on the 
deck."  Now knowing my way, I found the path to the deck, basket in 
hand.  He was tending to some small flower pots and initially didn't 
even look up.  When he did however he didn't say a word.  Simply 
smiled.  And then inquired "And what do you have there, my dear?"

"Oh, just some stuff I picked up on the way over" I responded 
affecting my most nonchalant air.  "Thought maybe you'd like some 
lunch, that is if you're not too busy, and then maybe we can continue 
our planning."  Again he just smiled.  Not a wicked smile but neither 
a brotherly one.  Just a knowing smile.  Transparency.

The smile hung on to just the point of discomfort when finally he 
replied "I can't think of a better use of my afternoon.  What can I 
help you with?"

"Just pick out a spot for me to set up and get some silverware.  I 
think I've most everything else." I retorted.

"We'll, December's not the best month for outdoor picnics" he 
commented unnecessarily.  I was already standing there shivering.  He 
pointed back toward the window at the coffee table where we'd been 
before.  Heading toward the kitchen he yelled back "Just toss the 
magazines underneath.  And can I inquire as to our main course?"  

"A little of this and a little of that" I responded.  "Mostly cold 
cuts" I  concluded as I sized up the setting.  It looked idyllic to 
me.  In well less than five minutes he returned with the requested 
paraphernalia as well as a bottle of wine.  Red, I noted.  He resumed 
his previous post to the left of the window as he deftly uncorked the 
wine.  I looked on with interest as I put the finishing touches on 
the spread.

"You will have some wine with this feast, I presume?" he said.  The 
questioning simply being rhetorical, he was filling my glass before I 
responded and fortunately it was "Of course" that I blurted out.  
I've done more elegant services since but for a first effort at 
sixteen it wasn't bad at all.  We laughed and chatted throughout the 
meal and my self- confidence soared.  A number of compliments were 
offered and all were welcomely absorbed.

"Let me clean up" he said rising from the table.  Before I could 
respond he'd already popped up and was stretching for my dishes, his 
arm dropping down over my far shoulder and his left hand lightly 
brushing the back of my neck.  Nothing was said.  It didn't need to 
be.  On his command I stayed put sipping from the second glass of 
wine that he'd poured and perhaps beginning to feel a slight tingle.  
And then the cigarette box grew large before my eyes. 'Dare I?', I 
thought.

His prompt return suggested to me that the dishes had made it no 
further than his sink.  He was back continuing our conversation and 
concurrently loading his pipe.  Still transfixed by the cigarette box,
 for the first seconds his words slid off me unheard.  Hesitantly, 
then more assertively, I move my hand toward the cigarette box.  
Looking up I flashed a alluring smile and offered "May I?".

"Of course" he replied with newfound alertness, "but I thought you 
didn't smoke?"  

"No, not very often but sometimes it just feels like the right thing 
to do.  The tingle of the wine and the aroma of your pipe tobacco 
just overcame me" I said trying to make as light of the topic as 
possible.  Opening the box to the mellifluous notes of "The Isle of 
Capri", I extracted with reasonable adeptness a gold filtered 
cigarette.  A totally new experience as best I could remember.

That's all that I had time to notice as a measured flame from his 
Zippo appeared before me.  Mimicking Sheila from the day before (as 
well as a whole bunch of old movies that I must have been paying more 
attention to than I thought at the time), I gently touched his cupped 
hand, brought the tip of my cigarette to the flame, and drew 
tentatively.     

The foreign taste assaulting my mouth, I was suddenly clueless.  Much 
of the smoke was passively dismissed before I remembered to inhale.  
What little that was left though caused no coughing and even produced 
a reasonable little exhale.  A second puff followed immediately and 
while I still kept it modest, again I inhaled without incident and 
this time produced a more respectable release.

I have no idea whether or not I enjoyed that cigarette in the least 
but I can say for certain that it serve an amazing purpose.  It was a 
wonderful prop.  Wine in one hand and cigarette in the other, I was 
now engaged with Steven on his playing field.  These newfound 
accouterments fed a burgeoning self image now sufficiently elevated 
to pull off this scene.  This new found chalice of alcohol, nicotine, 
and adrenaline promised to take me to new heights.  Unexplored 
heights.  Dizzying heights.  



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