Age of Bliss
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents
are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to people,
alive or dead, are coincidental.
This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.
Jordan maneuvered the Austin efficiently through the small-town streets taking only a few minutes to arrive at the Remember When. Martha would have preferred that Jordan be less efficient. Into the first corner, Martha gripped the seat and braced her legs for support. She thought that Jordan would notice and slow the car; but, she did not. Thus, Martha rode the total distance pressed against the seat.
When they stopped, Jordan looked at her. The smile on Jordan's face changed to surprise. "I'm sorry. That's the way I drive. I didn't think about having a passenger. I'll adjust from now on. The truth is: everything at Bliss is like in slow motion; this car is one thing which I can make go at a decent pace."
"You drive very well," Martha said having regained enough of her breath to respond. "I'm just not accustomed to speed. Events at Bliss have been going fast enough to suit me."
"Well, you ready to engage the adversaries?" asked Jordan opening her door while scanning down at Martha's uncovered legs still anchored to the floorboard.
Martha immediately straightened her dress over her knees. Somehow she found Jordan's gaze inappropriate. As with the ride, she did not like it, but she did find it exciting. She seemed to recall some reference to Jordan not being straight. She had not thought anything about it at the time. Now she wondered if the indication had been that Jordan was a homosexual. She had to admit that her understanding of such matters was limited to stereotypes. To her knowledge, she had never known a lesbian. Yet, she did not believe that Jordan was gay. Men just talk that way about women they don't like, she figured. Probably Jordan had simply been surprised to see her dress so far up her legs.
"I'm ready," she finally said.
"Good," said Jordan and gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
Inside, two small groups of students enjoyed themselves in the far part of the lounge. Jordan led the way to a table for eight in the middle of the room. "This should hold more than come. The first round's on me. What'll you have?"
"A glass of white wine," Martha said, feeling caught up in the adventure.
"Two glasses of chablis," Jordan told the waiter and then turned to Martha. "Did you say your life here has been moving too fast?"
"Well, you want to tell me about it? I could use some excitement."
"Mostly it involves Markus Mathews, I guess."
"Yes, I saw you talking with him at the concert. There's nothing between the two of you, is there?
"Oh, no. He's just a student in my class. No, that's not quite right. I knew him back in grade school, and now he's a student in my class and something of a nuisance on campus, I take it."
"A nuisance on campus?! He's a breath of fresh air if you ask me. The Fact Finder has prompted a degree of accountability not just from the administrators but from the stuck-in-the-mud faculty...."
Followed by three women, Dr. Minz had come up behind Jordan and, laying her hand on Jordan's shoulder, said, "I see that you didn't wait for me to start your indoctrination campaign."
"Indoctrination campaign, my foot! Come on around and have a seat; we almost have a round on you already. That's what you get for taking so long in getting here."
"It's hard to make much speed when one is stuck in the mud."
The women situated themselves and ordered drinks before continuing the banter. The light-hearted sparring between West and Minz delighted Martha; she felt very involved in the discussion, although she, as the other three, said nothing. The exchange centered around Markus and Markus' ideas heightening Martha's sense of participation.
Martha found that she had been brought a second glass of wine, so she finished her first. She knew that it was not wise to drink on an empty stomach, but she felt no ill effect from the first glass.
The women all agreed that this week's Finder showed great improvement. Martha smiled to herself and took another sip of her wine. This little outing was proving to be just what she wanted.
"Still," objected Dr. Minz, "do you really think that we need someone, and in particular some sophomore, telling us how to do our job? So what if the paper is better? What do we need with it anyway?"
"It gives us something to talk about on Friday afternoon."
"Really? My take on that is quite different. You seem to think that the faculty at Bliss has become complacent, but I think these seminars demonstrate exactly the opposite." A chorus of agreement from her three companions greeted Minz's comments.
"And the six of us reflect the progressive spirit of Bliss? I know that I'm impressed! Bliss's faculty doesn't attend the cultural events much less the intellectual ones. There are few inquisitive minds among the faculty. They certainly don't want any among the students. That's why they resent Markus Mathews."
"Well, I guess that puts us in our place! Mathews' mind isn't inquisitive, it's set as in concrete. We do appreciate inquiring minds, minds seeking to improve themselves. That type mind is not reflected in The Fact Finder."
"Now, wait. Doesn't the improvement in this week's issue show that the man is indeed growing?"
"Perhaps. Better proof would be if he stopped publishing that rot altogether and applied himself to being a student. Of course, if he doesn't like the academic atmosphere at Bliss, he could always transfer."
At that time the waiter came to ask about another round of drinks. Minz put her hand over her glass and said, "Oh no, not for me. I'm driving." With that, the other three women declined also.
"Well, I'll have another," said Jordan. "I thought that we might stay for dinner and the band. They have an excellent filet mignon."
Minz's group was quick to decline, but Jordan was looking at Martha. The steak sounded good, but she knew that she had to watch her dollars with two weeks remaining before payday.
"My treat," Jordan volunteered as if she had read Martha's mind. "I remember how it is before that first pay check. You can treat the next time."
Martha saw the sheepish smiles as the other women looked suspiciously at each other. Nevertheless, she said, "Sounds good to me," and then to the waiter, "I'll have another one also."
"Now," said Jordan, "your slogan for our students is 'Bliss: love it or leave it'?"
"In this case particularly. If Mathews doesn't want to benefit from what Bliss has to offer, what good does it do him to be here? Still, I have to give credit where credit is due. It was Martha's idea that he transfer; she advised him to do it." Minz looked at Knight.
Martha felt ill at ease with all eyes looking at her, but she acknowledged that she had made the suggestion. Jordan looked at her as if she were a traitor.
"What did he say?" one of the others asked.
"Ah, he's not going to listen to me."
"One never knows about these things," said Minz. "Well, this looks like a good time to call it a day. It's been fun. Hope the two of you have a pleasant evening. See ya next week."
"Have I misjudged you all that much?" Jordan asked after the others had left. You support the repressive policies of these authoritarians?"
"I haven't seen any repressive policies. I agree that students should come to college to learn, not to run the place."
"What are they going to learn? To take orders or to think for themselves?"
"I really don't want to argue it with you. Can't we just agree to disagree and enjoy ourselves?"
"Sure, that's what we are here for. Let's grab a booth so that we can be more comfortable and order our dinner."
They both ordered the mignon and Jordan added a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. Martha had felt the effects of the chablis as they moved to the booth, but she knew that the food would help. She asked about Jordan's interest in music and was entertained throughout dinner with her telling of her involvement with music from a very early age. Jordan's studies had taken her to New York, London and Paris. Her life had been dramatically different from Martha's, growing up as she did in one town. Jordan described her travels and adventures in such vibrant language that Martha felt as if she were on tour.
When they had finished their meal, Jordan looked at Martha and said, "Wow, I didn't know that I was so wrapped up in myself. Tell me about yourself."
"There really isn't much to tell...."
"Don't believe that for a minute." It was Markus sliding into the booth next to her. "We've all seen the movie; we know how exciting Oklahoma is."
"Well if it ain't Mr. Mathews in the flesh," said Jordan. "Your ears must really be burning. We've been talking about you all afternoon."
"Some of it flattering, I hope."
"Yes, everyone saw a big improvement in this week's Finder."
"The credit there must go to Dr. Knight here. She critiqued last week's edition and made many constructive suggestions. Then, Mary Cage, who is over there, helped with the editing this week."
"Then you're with some folks? Or can you join us?" Jordan asked and Martha frowned, hoping that only Jordan would see.
"Yeah, I'm with a group. Why don't the two of you join us?"
Martha immediately shook her head, "no," but Jordan responded verbally, "We might later."
"Do! We'll all have a good time. The band's great!" Markus stood and looked at Martha as he finished, "We can dance and have some nice, clean fun."
"He does have a thing for you!" Jordan said after he left. "I can see why Lyla Minz believes you can affect his decisions. You certainly affected his writing. You mustn't be totally opposed to what he's doing."
"He's a student of mine. I can help him improve his writing even if I don't agree with what he's saying."
"But, when you look at him, when you're talking with him, you don't feel any electricity at all?"
The band was beginning to warm up and it was somewhat difficult to hear the question. Martha shouted back, "No, nothing at all!"
"Then, I might not be totally wrong about you, either."
Martha was not sure that she understood the comment and asked Jordan to repeat it, but she just shook her head and said, "It wasn't important. Let's just enjoy the band." Martha understood enough to relax, sip her wine and listen to All You Need Is Love.
Martha enjoyed the band and the couples dancing. She saw Markus dancing with Mary. He moved gracefully for a tall man. She could understand why people were attracted to him, why they thought that she should be attracted to him. She thought, "I could be, it'd be possible."
The band went continually from one tune to another and Martha lost sight of Markus. Then, as another song was ending, she saw him walking toward their table. "I thought you two were going to join us," he said sliding in again next to Martha.
"We never said for sure," said Jordan moving to the end of her bench across from Markus.
Markus turned toward Martha and asked, "Well, will you dance with me?"
"I don't think that would be appropriate."
"I'd love to dance with you," said Jordan. "You're no longer one of my students."
"Great!" said Markus taking her hand as the band began I Want to Hold Your Hand.
Martha watched them as they glided across the floor. Suddenly, she lost her sense of enjoyment. She took the opportunity to go to the restroom and found that the effects of the wine had lessened.
The band was on its break by the time Martha returned to the table. "Oh, there you are. For a minute there I thought I had lost you," Jordan said. "That was fun dancing with Markus. You ought to try it."
"I can't believe you danced with him!"
Jordan looked at her and shook her head slowly, "What? Aren't we lesbians supposed to have any fun?"
Martha sat silent for a moment before responding, "No, no, it's not that. I just meant because he's a student."
Jordan continued to look at her as if in amazement. "You're jealous, aren't you?"
Martha did not respond.
"You're jealous. But, you don't know of whom. You don't know what your sexual preference is, do you?"
"I'm, I'm ..., uh, straight."
"Really? Do you say that from knowledge of yourself or because that's what society has taught you it's right to say?"
Martha remained silent.
"You aren't attracted -- at all -- to Markus, but you are attracted to me, even as I am to you."
"No! I'm not like that! I'm normal."
Jordan faced the wall and shook her head.
"I didn't mean to hurt you ... that you're abnormal. I do admire you -- very much. I want to be your friend."
"That's fine. I shouldn't have pushed you on it. Why don't I take you back to campus?"
Jordan accelerated slower going back to campus, and Martha found the ride more exhilarating and less frightening. Jordan asked as she drove how Martha liked Lyla Minz. Whenever Martha was not holding her breath, she told Jordan of Astor's wanting her to work on a project with him and how Minz's position on that issue had forced her to reevaluate her liking of Minz. She was still detailing her suspicions as Jordan steered the sports car next to Martha's Ford in the deserted faculty lot.
After parking the car, Jordan listened as Martha finished with, "The last thing she said to me as we walked into the faculty lounge this afternoon was that she thought I was being dogmatic by refusing to work on this Millay project with him."
Jordan looked at Martha and nodded her head slowly. "This sounds like something we need to talk about."
"I'd like that."
"Well, the night is young. Would you want to do it now? We could go somewhere ...."
"My apartment is close."
"I'll follow you?"
"Yeah .... Sure," Martha said, then opened her door and climbed out slowly.
Martha made coffee in her efficiency kitchen and they avoided for awhile the discussion of Richard Astor, as well as the other issue which had surfaced that evening.
Finally, Jordan moved into the living room and positioned herself in an arm chair which came with the apartment. Martha followed and sat on the accompanying sofa.
Jordan began with, "You're wise to be leery of Astor's advances. He has had a reputation for some time of getting too close to graduate students. Then there is the story which took place the year before I arrived. He co-taught a course with a non-tenured faculty in physics, technical writing. She handled the technical; he handled the grammatical, as it were. She complained that he made inappropriate advances. Her department head asked that some other English professor be given that assignment in the future. Minz co-taught it the next year along with the chair of physics. The contract of the non-tenured faculty was not renewed."
Martha sat looking at her hands. Markus was right: she was a lamb in the wolves' den. She had worked so hard through college simply to go back into a situation similar to the one she was fleeing.
Jordan moved next to Martha. "My poor dear," she said placing her hand gently on Martha's bowed shoulder. "I didn't mean for the story to upset you. Richard Astor will not harm you. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, as they say. We'll make darn sure that he doesn't gain any power over you! Now, dry your eyes." Jordan reached into her handbag, found tissues and gave one to Martha.
The act comforted Martha. She dried her eyes, but the tears did not abate. Perhaps the new tears were ones of joy because Martha felt the warmth of protection in her new friendship.
"My sweet child," Jordan said while turning Martha's face toward her and dabbing away the fresh tears with a new tissue.
Martha leaned into Jordan, indulging in the support she provided. Jordan embraced her and she basked in the comfort of Jordan's body.
"I'm so glad you're here," Martha said in a voice she did not recognize.
"I'm glad that I'm here too. You're a treasure. I'm delighted we've been brought together."
Martha had her eye closed as Jordan lifted her face and kissed her mouth. It was a soft, sweet kiss, a sisterly kiss. Martha extended the contact and her lips slipped to a slight angle with Jordan's. Martha tasted Jordan when their lips parted as they pressed tighter together. Then, she felt Jordan's tongue caressing the lining of her mouth. Martha's tongue moved to one side and glided beside Jordan's until it touched Jordan's lips.
Martha felt Jordan's hand slide around to her front and cup her breast. The electricity from her breast took Martha's breath with a start.
Jordan broke the kiss and looked at Martha in surprise, "Oh, I forgot, you still think that you're straight."
Martha's mind cried, "No!" Yet, Martha said nothing. She was not sure what the "no" meant.
Jordan continued, "I'm sorry, I really didn't mean to take advantage of you." Jordan rose and took two steps toward the kitchen. "I was just doing what comes naturally -- for me."
Martha did not respond. She was so uncertain. She had enjoyed the comfort of Jordan's embrace. She had also been aroused by the kiss. Yet, it was not as it had been with her father. She did not feel guilty as she had in the early years or dirty as she did later. It had seemed natural; but now that Jordan was standing away from her, it no longer seemed that it should have been natural.
Jordan turned toward her: "Here I pretend to be your protector from Richard Astor and then act as reprehensibly as he would. It won't happen again until you tell me that you want it to. Will you take my word on that? Can we continue to be friends?"
"You believe I'm a homosexual and that it's just a matter of time?"
"Yes. Yes, that's what I think. But, I'm not sure. I don't want to push you into anything."
"Wouldn't I know?"
"I'm not an expert in such matters. I was surprised you didn't know, and, then, thought I might be wrong. Have you ever been with a man?"
Martha remained silent. She knew that she should respond in the negative; she definitely did not want to discuss her encounters with her father.
"You have but it wasn't enjoyable?" Jordan's voice made the statement into a question, but her face projected a degree of certainty which Martha did not like.
Martha knew that a positive response here would avoid the issue of her father, but that Jordan would take it as evidence supporting her belief in their sexual compatibility.
Jordan continued to look at her with an air of confidence.
"I have never had a boyfriend, a lover, if that is what you're getting at. I was brought up in a very strict Baptist family. My father was a Baptist preacher. Boys didn't come around our house. Since then, I've been too busy, haven't met anyone."
"You were raped.... It occurred when you first left home, your freshman year? ... No? Earlier then.... Much earlier? Your father didn't let boys come around; so, it must have been a relative.
"Oh, my God, I've made you cry again," Jordan said and again handed her a tissue. "You've had a rough time of it. I can certainly see why you'd be confused by all this sex stuff. Believe me, though, it's not supposed to be so terrible. It's supposed to be enjoyable; and it will be for you. You've never told anyone that you were raped?"
"No," whispered Martha.
"And it was a relative?"
Jordan sat beside Martha and again pulled her close. "Then, it continued for years and you never told anyone. You poor child! How have you survived?" Jordan gently ran the tips of her fingers across the top of Martha's back.
Martha had stopped crying. Simply telling Jordan that it was her father who had molested her made Martha feel better. She was grateful to Jordan for supplying the other details. "For most of the time, most of the years, I thought it was normal. Fathers punish their children, you know. I felt shame, remorse. I resolved to be a better little girl. Then, I realized that it was wrong, but I was enjoying it -- some part of it; so, I accepted the responsibility for it and I still felt shame." Martha began to weep again. Jordan drew her near and she felt secure. "Finally I did decide that it wasn't my fault, but all I could do then was avoid him. And he let me. By then, he was doing it to my little sister, I'm sure."
Martha turned and leaned into Jordan. For a long time she enjoyed the warmth of Jordan's embrace. When she did draw away, she had stopped crying. "You know, through it all, he left me a virgin. I guess it speaks to his strong moral ethic. My virginity belonged to my husband."
"He wouldn't take that which belonged to another man! Wasn't that big of him."
"Yes, I know. Still, that's the way I think, too, I guess. It didn't turn me against men. I still think in terms of marriage, children and all the rest of it."
"Oh, my precious Martha, your sexual preference goes much deeper than your relationship with your father. His raping you didn't make you gay, nature made you gay. His abuse, coupled with the indoctrination of his distorted morality, has hindered your ability to even know yourself, much less accept your needs as natural."
Again, Martha sat silently. She liked Jordan. She knew that their talk had been therapeutic. She would even admit to having enjoyed their physical contact. However, she would not/could not accept the logic of what Jordan had said.
"Okay," said Jordan, "I won't press it any farther. We've come a long way this evening. Right? Still, we haven't made any plans for dealing with Richard Astor. We want to make you don't end up in another abusive situation."
"Yes we do."
"It's a shame, though, that you can't do the Millay project. Perhaps you and I could collaborate on it. You know that Millay's first ambition was to be a concert pianist? Her teacher finally advised her against it because she had such small hands. Still, her poetry reflects the musical influence. I've often thought about putting some of her poems to music.
"Okay, we'll focus on Richard Astor," Jordan relented. "Do you have lunch with him every day?"
"No, just Monday-Wednesday-Friday."
"Why don't we break that pattern? On Monday, I'll come by and we'll go off campus. That'll give you an option. Once the pattern is broken, you can choose whom you want to have lunch with. That'll give you more independence from him. Of course, you must maintain your refusal to work with him. You know, you might also want to develop your friendship with Russ Foster. He's a scholar and if the scuttlebutt on him is correct, a gentleman as well."
"Okay? Okay. Then, I guess that's a wrap. I'll be there on Monday."
Martha did not sleep well that night. The familiar feeling of hopelessness crowded out the sleep. She took solace in her friendship with Jordan, but the friendship was a fruit on a thorn-laced vine. She still felt like a pawn, except now there were three forces attempting to move her. Admittedly, Jordan had recognized her right to choose. However, she knew that she could never opt as Jordan wanted and she doubted that Jordan would long remain content with their being "just friends."
She also wondered about the consequences of associating with a homosexual. She had no idea of how open Jordan had been about her own, how did she say it, sexual preferences. Jordan had been rather blunt about it to Martha, but they had been alone. Richard Astor had spoken as if he knew, but somehow, even now, Martha did not believe he did. It seemed unlikely to her that Jordan would be invited to the Carry Nation seminar if her preferences were general knowledge.
Martha's despondency continued on Saturday. Despite Jordan's assurances, Martha doubted that she could avoid the influence of Richard Astor. Even if she could avoid him at lunch, there were still departmental meetings, committees and all manner of academic and social functions which he could exploit. None of that even considered the research project which both he and Minz were pandering.
Martha's thoughts returned to the evening before. She could not believe that she had kissed another woman in such a way. Moreover, she was going to lunch with her on Monday. All that she asked was for a normal, healthy romance, and she found herself in the arms of a lesbian to avoid the illicit pursuit of a married womanizer and a dogmatic student.
She tossed and turned again Saturday night and awoke with the same depression on Sunday. She told herself that she had to take control. She had earned a Ph.D. while being totally self supporting. She had escaped a fate worse than any of the three possibilities facing her. She knew she had the power to prevent any of them if she would simply exercise it. There had to be another option beyond the three that had been given to her. If necessary, she could leave Bliss.
She thought about Monday's lunch; she concluded that she did not have to go to lunch with any of them. She could always eat alone. The thought depressed her, but it was a possibility. On the other hand, she thought, association with a lesbian might give her the shield she needed to avoid Richard's advances. He had used Jordan's supposed lesbianism as a reason for not pursuing her; perhaps the same would apply to Martha.
Martha considered that her idea involved using Jordan, but felt that as long as Jordan understood the charade, there would be no ethical problem. Jordan wanted to help. The idea suggested a possible way that Martha could remain at Bliss until she could make a professionally acceptable move. Mostly Martha needed to keep it extremely clear that they were just friends; otherwise, her relationship with Jordan could become as polluted as the other two.
As she considered the three possibilities, Markus loomed as the most logical. Perhaps she had pushed the teacher-student relationship to the extreme. She had been so proud of having the position that it may have polluted her thinking. Markus was older than she and in many regards more mature.
On Sunday evening, she remembered thinking, "Who does he think he is, anyway?" Then she thought, "Who did I think I was, anyway, Dr. High and Mighty Knight? I'm only going to be his teacher for this one semester. Perhaps I need to think more of the future."