The Slumber Party Ch. 15

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Jessica loved her job.

There was something so heartwarming about teaching elementary school. She was usually in charge of third- and fourth-graders, and she thought that was just the perfect age: young enough that they still respected adult authority and hadn’t descended into the depths of teenage hooliganism, but old enough that they were starting to become rational creatures. And they were all sweet, boys and girls alike. Her son Grant had been that way too, but that had been so long ago that she could hardly remember it. Now, even though Angela (and Sara) had done yeoman’s work in mellowing him and taking off some of his rough edges, he was still quite a lot to handle—especially when he insisted on stalking into her bed and making her all hot and bothered.

So when the school year—coinciding with Grant’s last year of college—began that September, she was looking forward to educating another batch of kids in the arcana of cursive handwriting, geography, and other subjects that were still closed books to them.

She was surprised—even astonished—at the presence of a new teacher at View Ridge Elementary. It was a man, Robert Mattison.

It was pretty unusual for a man to be teaching at this level in the first place, since nearly all the other teachers were women. Male teachers tended to go into junior high, high school, or college. And even when the rare man did show up, he tended to be young and inexperienced. But Robert was about her age—maybe a few years younger, but definitely (so she estimated) at least forty, perhaps a bit more.

She had not been involved in the hiring process, and so his sudden presence was unexpected. So was his appearance. He was a big guy—not fat by any means, but tall (perhaps six foot one) and muscular. Had he played athletics when he was younger? Maybe he did: she could have sworn he had a broken nose, although in other ways his face had the craggy good looks that one might have associated with a private eye from the 1930s. But his soft gray eyes were gentle, even haunting, and his quick smile could melt any woman’s heart.

He was handling fourth- and fifth-graders, and so it was natural that he and Jessica would get acquainted.

The first few weeks of the term were always a bit crazy, as teachers and students alike struggled to settle into the rhythm of the school year. But one afternoon, as Jessica trudged into the teachers’ lounge after a particularly tiring day, she found Robert placidly sitting there drinking some hot drink out of a thermos.

That puzzled her, because there was a coffeemaker in the room that she felt made passable coffee, and could even make tea in a pinch.

She had, up to this point, scarcely exchanged more than a few hasty words with him; but as he was at this moment the only person in the room, she couldn’t avoid a more extended discussion.

“Hi, Robert,” she began inauspiciously.

“Hi there, Jessica,” he said placidly, continuing to drink out of his thermos. Every now and then he daintily ate a cookie or cracker he had placed on the table next to him.

“Our coffee not good enough for you?” she said teasingly.

“This is tea,” he said, holding up his thermos.

“The coffeemaker makes tea too,” she said, gesturing toward the teabags next to the machine.

“Yes, but there’s always a residual taste of coffee when you do that,” he said. “I’m a bit particular about my tea.”

“Are you?” she said. What else are you particular about?

But she went on more neutrally. “How are you finding life here at View Ridge?”

“It’s wonderful,” he said earnestly. “The kids are wonderful.”

“They are, aren’t they?” she said. “So young and innocent.”

“Well, the fifth-graders may not be quite so innocent anymore, but even they are better than middle-schoolers.”

“Is that what you did before?”

“Yes—in Lake Stevens.” Lake Stevens was a bedroom community about an hour’s drive north of Seattle.

“That’s a lovely area,” she said conventionally.

“It is—but I like it here better. Rather more things to do.”

“Mmmm.”

For some reason Jessica was terrified of the silence that now descended upon them. My God, can’t I talk about anything else to this attractive guy? He’ll think I’m a dolt!

Robert didn’t seem to mind the lull in the conversation: he continued to drink his tea and eat his cookie quietly, casting bland but friendly glances at his companion.

What possessed Jessica to say what she did she would never know, but say it she did.

“Are you married?” she blurted out.

She could have cut off her tongue, for she really wasn’t trying to come on to him. I just couldn’t think of anything to say! His reaction was just what one would have predicted. His expression suddenly went blank, and she could have sworn that the blood drained from his face. But in a few moments he broke into a kind of fractured smile that made Jessica herself blush and said:

“Not anymore.”

“Divorced?” bahis firmaları she said.

“Yes,” he said. Then he added, without provocation: “She cheated on me.”

For some reason the revelation had a strange effect on Jessica. Maybe she was just keyed up from this first encounter with a man to whom she was obviously attracted. Whatever the case, she reacted in a way that took both Robert and herself by surprise.

She broke down in tears.

“Oh, God, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! That’s so sad . . .”

Robert, taken aback by his colleague’s sudden descent into emotionalism, clumsily made his way to where Jessica was sitting, then knelt down beside her and said, “It’s okay, really it is.”

That led Jessica to let out an even more anguished cry and wrap Robert’s head with her arms and hold it to her chest as the tears rained down her cheeks and on to the top of his head. She kept saying, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” as she sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

Robert merely endured this strange treatment—although he made no particular protest as his head nestled between Jessica’s breasts.

After some minutes Jessica suddenly realized what she was doing, and how much she had violated decorum. Releasing Robert’s head as if it were radioactive, she cried, “Omigod! I shouldn’t have done that! Please forgive me.”

“Don’t mention it,” Robert said dryly. He snatched up a paper napkin on the table in front of them and wiped Jessica’s tears away as best he could. “You okay now?”

She nodded jerkily. Aside from being utterly mortified, she was just fine.

“Were you married a long time?” Jessica asked, fighting back a renewed onrush of tears.

“Fourteen years,” he said hollowly.

“That’s a long time.”

“You must be married.”

“Why do you assume that?”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—”

“Well, I’m not,” Jessica said defiantly. “I was—for twenty years. Then he left me.”

“That was incredibly stupid of him,” Robert said with unexpected viciousness.

Jessica was startled, not knowing whether he was teasing her or not. “Well, that’s his lookout.”

“And his loss.”

That remark caused Jessica to redden, and Robert too recognized that he may have been a bit too bold.

To change the subject, Jessica said, “Where are you living?”

“Oh, I just have a little apartment in the U district. Maybe I’ll get a house later.”

“Really? I have a house in the U district.”

“Do you? You’re lucky. Houses are pretty expensive there.”

“Well, my husband and I got it a long time ago.”

“Good for you. It’s a wonderful area.”

“Yeah, if you can avoid the frat boys and the girl gangs.”

Robert laughed at that. “Yes, I know what you mean.”

The mood had definitely lightened, and Robert felt he could venture to say, “Would you like to get some coffee sometime?”

She looked at him severely. “Robert, I think we’re past the stage of getting coffee at Starbucks—or even Tully’s. I was thinking maybe dinner might be in order.”

She thought she might have gone too far, if Robert’s expression of surprise was any indication. But he broke out into that incredible smile and said boyishly, “Gee, that would be great! You mean at your house?”

Jessica colored at that. “Well, um, no. I meant a restaurant. There are plenty of good ones in that area.” I don’t know how Grant would feel if I dragged a man into the house.

“There sure are,” he said suavely. “I can think of several.”

They discussed their favorite places for a while, finally resolving on a South Indian restaurant that served excellent vegetarian cuisine—not that either were exclusively vegetarians, both were quick to state. They determined that tomorrow would be a good day to go to the place.

When Jessica came home that afternoon, she couldn’t help sharing the news with Angela.

“You’re going on a date?” Angela burbled.

“Sure looks like it!” Jessica beamed.

“My God, that’s wonderful! Is he, um, nice?”

“Nice, handsome, kind, sweet—and lots of other good things, I’m sure.”

“Wow,” Angela said with a bit of awe in her voice. Then, more skeptically: “You gonna tell Grant?”

“Well, of course I’m going to tell him. I mean, I won’t be around for dinner tomorrow, so he’s going to want to know where I am.”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine with it,” Angela said, although her voice betrayed her doubts.

“I think so,” Jessica said—but she wasn’t certain either.

Grant can be pretty possessive, she thought later, as she undressed and slipped into her nightgown. She wasn’t sure whether Grant would come to her bed tonight, but there was always the possibility. He still seemed to like doing at least two women a night, so she had to keep herself ready. But for God’s sake, I’m his mother! I’ve allowed him access to my body, but that doesn’t mean he can keep me from just going out with someone else. Does he expect me to tend to him for the kaçak iddaa rest of my life? Doesn’t he think I might enjoy the company of a man of my own age?

And in fact, Grant was quite supportive.

“That’s great, Mom,” he said with at least a modicum of enthusiasm when she gave him the news the next morning. Jessica had deliberately spilled the beans over breakfast, with the other girls sitting around the table: if he was in any way inclined to lose his head and make a scene, the presence of his other loves would presumably act as a restraining force. But he seemed genuinely pleased with the prospect, even though he did ask his mother for as much information as she could provide on her new “man.”

“Grant, he’s not my ‘man,'” she chided. “I’m just going out with him for one dinner.”

“But there may be others,” he pointed out.

“Maybe,” she conceded.

“And you work with him every day.”

“I don’t work with him—it’s not as if we teach classes together. He just happens to be teaching at the school where I’m teaching.”

“But you see him a lot.”

“Not a lot—just sometimes.”

“Okay, Mom, whatever. If you like him, then you should certainly see as much of him as you like.”

Well, thank you, Sultan, for your gracious permission!

But what she actually said was, “Thanks, Grant. That means a lot to me.”

That first date did in fact lead to several others, and Jessica learned a lot about Robert and told him a lot about herself (well, of course, certain things she made sure not to tell). She did of course tell him that her son was Grant Norton; and the moment she said that, Robert looked startled and said:

“Not the running back for UW?”

“The same.”

“You’re his mother?”

“Yes,” she said, a bit irritated.

“You couldn’t possibly be that old.”

“I’m forty-five, I’ll have you know.”

“Impossible.”

“You think I’m lying?”

“No—I’m sure you’d never lie. But it just doesn’t seem—”

“Well, it’s true.”

He just shook his head in disbelief, and she couldn’t help being pleased. It was quite obvious he was not simply trying to flatter her by thinking her younger than she was: he truly believed she could only be about thirty-five or so.

She learned that Robert had a passion for gardening, and he lamented that his current living situation didn’t allow him to pursue it. He had sold his house in Lake Stevens and was saving up the money to buy a house near the school, but wanted to wait until his position was more solidified there. In answer to her query, he admitted that he had been an athlete himself during his college years, excelling at wrestling. (Why am I not surprised?) But he had put all that past him, aside from following various college and professional team sports.

And he told Jessica about his ex-wife, Marion. They were the same age, and had met in teacher’s college and married when they were twenty-four. Luckily they had both secured positions in the same school in Lake Stevens, and they seemed to have settled down to a comfortable, if somewhat predictable, life. But she appears to have met someone at the gym where she worked out—and Robert stated frankly that Marion looked fabulous in her spandex workout suit—and eventually admitted to him that she had slept with the guy a couple of time. Even though she now claimed the affair was over, he was unable to put it past him and pressed her for a divorce.

That was four years ago, and Robert said that he had not been out on a date with any woman since then—until now.

Jessica couldn’t help being pleased at the news. “That makes me feel special,” she said, looking away from him.

“You are special,” he said. “That was obvious from the start.”

After most of their dates, they ambled over to his apartment. Jessica was not quite prepared to introduce Robert to her unorthodox household, let alone to explain to him just how that household functioned. Especially given what he had told her about the way his marriage had gone up in flames, she was gravely in doubt as to whether the bed-swapping that all the members of her “family” engaged in would be something he would in any way approve of.

But that would be a discussion for another day.

It was only on their third date that Robert even made an effort to kiss her. This hesitancy (shouldn’t we already be sleeping together on the third date?) irritated Jessica more than she could say, but she kept mum on the subject, lest Robert slip out of her hands. But at last, at the end of that third date, just as she was saying it was getting late and she should be getting on home, he stopped her as she was about to open his front door, took her in his arms (holding her far more gently than she would have liked—but at least he was holding her), and planted a tentative kiss on her mouth.

“Mmmm,” she murmured under his lips.

As he broke off the kiss and was pulling away, she threw her arms around his neck and kaçak bahis clung to him. “A little more, please,” she said impudently.

A sort of shy, nervous smile spread out on his face. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, and complied.

This kiss lasted a lot longer—maybe fifteen or twenty seconds. That’s a long time for a kiss.

Afterward, Jessica sighed and said, “That’s a lot better.”

She would have been happy to have cancelled her plans to leave and stayed the night (in spite of the absence of a change of clothing—and tomorrow was a school day!), but Robert gave no indication that that was on the agenda. Sighing in a very different fashion, she left and went home.

Two days later, a Friday, she did bring Robert over to her house for dinner, after he gently but pointedly asked her to do so. She was naturally filled with some trepidation, but concluded that everything would be fine. I mean, what could possibly happen? It’s not as if Grant is going to bed down with any of the girls—or with me—right in front of Robert!

When Jessica let Robert into the house after they had finished their classes for the day, all the other occupants were there to greet them. Robert definitely made a hit.

When she first saw him, Angela gasped and whispered to her sister, “My God, what a hunk!”

Sara was on the verge of chiding her when Marcia said almost audibly, “I want him.” The words were not said in any way lasciviously—they were just a statement of fact.

Even so, Angela said, “Marcia! What are you thinking?”

She shook her head as if scattering the cobwebs in her brain. “What? What? What did I say?”

“You said enough,” Sara said, but with a smile.

Grant sauntered in from his bedroom, stopped short when he saw Robert looming before him, then proceeded casually over and extended a hand.

“Glad to meet you,” he said genially. “Mom’s told me a lot about you.”

“As she has told me a lot about you,” Robert said, taking the hand and shaking it warmly.

Even though Grant was a scant inch taller than Robert, the latter’s girth somehow made him the more imposing figure; and his weathered maturity, contrasting with Grant’s still boyish complexion and demeanor, somehow reduced Grant to the level of a schoolboy. The four women in the room were gazing back and forth between the two males as if hypnotized—or as if they were a group of lionesses preparing to see a battle for supremacy among two lions.

But it was not to be. The two men actually clapped each other on the back and at once began talking about sport—Grant’s career and his prospects in the NFL, other college teams that were doing well that season, and so on and so forth. As the women looked among themselves, suddenly feeling bereft and excluded, Jessica shrugged and silently expressed the thought going through the minds of all the females:

They’re guys. What do you expect them to talk about? At least they’re not tearing each other’s throats out. In fact, they seem to be bonding in some weird way.

The dinner went splendidly, and the younger women couldn’t pump Robert enough for the details of his life and career. When he explained, in a highly truncated manner, the course of his marriage and its dissolution, they expressed a welter of sentiments.

“Fourteen years!” Marcia said. “Gosh, that’s a long time to be married.” Two-thirds of my life, to be precise.

“How could that woman have done that to you!” Angela said, outraged on Robert’s behalf. “She must have been—” She stopped short, concluding lamely: “A bad person.”

Even this modest criticism was not entirely pleasing to Robert. “No, I don’t think she was. She wouldn’t have done what she did if she wasn’t somehow dissatisfied with me.”

“Oh, you can’t blame yourself!” Sara cried. “Why didn’t she try to work it out with you?”

“I guess I didn’t give her the chance,” he concluded ruefully.

“But that was afterwards!” Marcia said indignantly. “If she was unhappy, she should have come to you with her issues before she—she spread her legs for another man!”

“Marcia, really!” Jessica chided.

“Well,” Marcia said defiantly, “that’s what she did, isn’t it?”

“We’d better talk about something else,” Jessica said emphatically. And she did manage to turn the conversation to safer subjects.

All three girls were captivated by Robert, and they each gave him a big hug one after the other as he was leaving—something he found rather disconcerting, but endured in good spirits. When the girls had flitted away (and Grant had given him a firm handclasp and wandered off himself), Jessica led Robert to the door for her own private goodbye.

“That’s quite a household you have here,” he said. He was itching to ask what exactly had led not only Grant’s avowed girlfriend (Angela), but also her sister (Sara), and another young woman (Marcia) whose role in the family dynamic he didn’t understand at all, to live in seeming harmony under one roof. But his relationship with Jessica—and he knew he wanted some kind of relationship with her, beyond being just her colleague at school—was still so new that he didn’t feel it prudent to make too many awkward inquiries.

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