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.

Chapter 11

Martha struggled to keep her mind on the papers she was correcting. Finally she quit and tidied the apartment. Her chores did not prevent her pondering the events of yesterday and of tomorrow. She had agreed to ask Markus about documentation for Mason's misconduct. Minz had pushed for that information at lunch. Then, that afternoon, she had agreed to seek it.

She wished she knew Minz's motive. Whatever it was specifically, Martha knew that generally Minz was looking out for herself. Perhaps Minz wanted the information to decide whether she should continue to support Mason.

Martha became excited at the thought. Perhaps Minz had enough inside information to recognize the real possibility of Markus' having the evidence and feared its impact on Mason's reign. Minz's reference to rumors about Mason supported this analysis.

"Tomorrow, I can ask Jordan's opinion," Martha thought. Beyond Jordan's council, Martha anticipated shifting something of the increased responsibility which she felt. Jordan seemed to revel in controversy and certainly knew better the political climate.

Martha reconsidered her agreement to investigate the extent of Markus' documentation. "Now you have a reason to talk with Markus again," came the voice from within. She had to admit that she was unhappy with the way in which their association stood at the moment and desired some way to mend the fabric.

Mostly she recognized her uncertainty. She valued Markus and felt an attraction to him, but she did not know if her feelings went beyond those of a teacher for a prized student. She knew that her mind was on him and his aspiration. However, now she was intricately involved in those very same goals and she could not divide her own interests from his.

Likewise, her mind continued to return to Jordan and her anticipated return. Martha longed to see Jordan, but that feeling also was convoluted. Jordan clearly represented relief. To some degree, she represented security and comfort. These latter symbolizations, Martha recognized, had physical overtones. She wanted to feel the warmth of Jordan's embrace. The sexual implications of that desire perplexed Martha. She preferred to define the desire in terms of friendship.

With the apartment all neat and clean, Martha returned to her papers. Still, she could not focus sufficiently to complete the task. She began to wonder where Jordan was performing this evening. If it were not too far, she could drive there. She would love to hear Jordan play. It could calm her mind. She wished that she had asked Jordan for an itinerary. It had to be published somewhere, perhaps in The Beacon or the city paper.

Martha put on her coat and went to the library. First she searched the back files of The Beacon with no success. Then she went to the Middletown paper, where she found the article. The piece was so short that she almost missed it located there at the bottom of page two. Still the write up did mention tonight's performance in Madison.

Martha found the town in an atlas before she left the library just to ensure she knew the route. Madison looked to be a two-hour trip. She would have ample time to dress, drive there and have dinner before the 8:00 performance.

Driving did help. She focused on seeing and hearing Jordan play. She doubted they would be able to talk after the performance. Martha knew how exhausting these recitals were. If she knew where Jordan was lodged, they might have had dinner together; but she didn't have that information, and Jordan's dinner had probably been arranged for her in advance. Martha contented herself with the expectation of enjoying the concert.

She found the civic auditorium, based on the directions of a service station attendant, with no difficulty. The ticket office was yet to open, but there were no "sold out" signs. She was confident she could still get a ticket.

The auditorium was in the center of town, and Martha saw several nearby restaurants, en route. However, since she was dressed for the evening with hose and heels, she wanted a nice place to eat. She wished not to call attention to herself, especially since she was alone.

After driving past the different options, she chose the Cotton Club. Beneath its name, which was in bold old English type, was written in lower-case script, "home of eloquent dining."

She was greeted at the door. Inside, a person took her coat and another escorted her to her table. The whole room was lit dimly, seemingly only by the candles on the table. She was satisfied that her apparel would be inconspicuous here. She felt contented and comfortable. She thought it was a good start to an enjoyable evening.

She ordered a lobster thermidor, which was a new dish for her. A wine steward came and she asked for a glass of chablis. The servers were attentive without being obtrusive and the food was delightful. Martha was most happy with her choice. "The very kind of place Jordan would have selected," she thought.

Then, almost as if her mind was providing a response to her thought, she saw two women walking toward the door and one looked exactly like Jordan. Martha looked again across the darkness of the room. Her mind had not deceived her. It was Jordan talking with the other woman. The woman touched Jordan as they talked. Then, when the attendant returned with their coats, the woman helped Jordan with hers. Martha watched motionlessly.

Martha bought one of the remaining seats, after waiting in line. She found her seat as the house lights were fading. The spot light fell on Jordan, dressed in the yellow gown from their shopping spree, behind a white grand piano. She opened with Thus Spake Zarathustra. Jordan paused after this selection to acknowledge the audience. Next she thanked the grant committee and the center's staff. She asked the staff to stand for recognition. Martha did not see the woman from the Club among them.

From there, the musical followed the same pattern as it had at Bliss. Martha focused on the music in an attempt to clear her mind. The power of Jordan's talent soon worked its magic.

The concert ended before Martha anticipated. When the applause began, she understood: Jordan had saved the last tune for an encore. She returned and played Somewhere My Love. The audience responded with a roar. To Martha's surprise, Jordan returned.

"Thank you, thank you," she said. "You have been a wonderful audience. This will have to be my last; I dedicate it to the special person who has made my stay in Madison extra special." With that she played Love Me Tender.

Fatigue throttled Martha's thoughts on the return trip.

It was late Sunday afternoon when the phone rang. It was good to hear Jordan's voice. She asked whether Astor had been a problem. Martha said, "Not really," and asked about the trip.

"Everything went fine. It got a little tiresome playing the same songs night after night, but the response was reassuring."

"You got to meet a lot of new people... see some old friends?"

"Yes, there was that. Of course, I was able to set the whole thing up because I had friends in the key cities and contacts in the others.

"But, I didn't call to talk about the tour. I'm interested in what's been going on here. Want to catch me up over dinner? I feel like cooking. I'm tired of truck stop meals."

Martha wanted very much to see Jordan and to discuss the developments of the previous two weeks. Thus, she ignored the urge to ask how anyone could call the Cotton Club a truck stop and accepted the invitation. She carefully copied the directions and considered what to wear.

She slipped on a white cotton blouse and an a-line, brown skirt. She combed her hair, applied a touch of lipstick and put on the silver earrings. Then, she found her copies of the previous two Finders.

Jordan wore an apron over a black velvet jump suit when she opened the door to the peaceful cottage nestled against a grove of mature pines. Martha marveled at how different her host looked. Last night she had been a blue diamond elegantly positioned to reflect its brilliance; tonight, she's a perfect cameo from a simpler era. The apron, Martha noticed, projected a domestic quality which emphasized instead of concealing Jordan's sensuality. Somehow, it reminded Martha of the woman in the restaurant.

Then, Martha caught the aroma. "Lasagna? It smells wonderful."

"Yes, it'll be done soon. I was just tossing a salad to go with it. Come on into the kitchen and we can talk while I finish. What you got?"

"The last two editions of the Finder. In many aspects, they tell the story of the past two weeks here." Martha watched those hands slice vegetables as expertly as they interpreted Mozart and she remembered the encore dedication.

"Is that right?"

"Yes. ... You know, don't you, that they offered him a job at The Beacon? Well, that was a sham. They planned to frame him for plagiarism."

"Really! Well, I can't say that I'm all that surprised. I never believed Mason would do anything good for any student, much less Markus." Jordan systematically tossed the vegetables into the serving bowl and rinsed her hands before coming to the table where Martha was resting.

"I was taken in by Minz completely." Martha lowered her gaze. "I encouraged Markus to accept their offer. I'm afraid I may have misled him. Anyway, he blamed me along with Astor and Minz. I think he'd have done it if Russ Foster hadn't uncovered the plot."

"Didn't Russ tell him you weren't involved?"

"Eventually, but, in the meantime, he told me off. I went to the Remember When to warn him. He was with Mary Cage."

"I see," said Jordan, nodding her head and looking at the first Finder.

"This week, he came and apologized, but then we quarreled again."

"Over Miss Cage?"

"Well, somewhat."

"You do care for him," Jordan said more definitively than Martha liked.

They sat silently for several minutes. Jordan finished reading the first-week's paper. "He published this after he learned of the plot. Very reasonable proposals. More like the Markus of old, just more polished."

Jordan reached for the second paper. "What's this written at the top? Sounds like a request to mend bridges to me."

"Yes, I had that thought. I don't know. I'm so glad you are back. Read that paper and I think you will see why."

"Wow," Jordan said while she was reading, and then, "Wow! Wow! Wow," when she finished. "I bet Mason was fit to be tied."

A buzzer sounded. "The lasagna's ready."

"Can I help?"

"Sure. You can serve the salad. Dressings're in the frig, and also water and vino."

Jordan placed large portions on each plate and filled the glasses with wine while Martha poured the water. "It all looks and smells ... well, delicious."

"Just wait," Jordan said removing her apron. Martha's attention was drawn to the zipper which separated the ample breasts. It was open enough to reveal a fine silver chain reaching to a crystal tear drop.

Jordan turned slightly and removed a silver candelabra from a cabinet. Martha watched the gracefulness of the move which first tightened the jump suit and then brought the crystal gem to eye level.

"We dine tonight by candle light," Jordan said, smiling at Martha, who took a breath and returned the smile.

Martha thought, "Two nights in a row," while tasting the salad.

"This last Finder was to explain why you're so glad to see me?"

"Yes .... Yes, I have missed having your counsel. Then, Minz maneuvered me into being a spokeswoman at Friday's seminar as if I were a leader, which the women faculty need if what Markus says is true ...."

"In terms of the treatment of women, it's true all right."

"I don't know what Minz is after ... but, if we need a leader, you're better suited to it than I." Martha noted how the light emphasized the beauty of Jordan's face. Her eyes sparkled as did the crystal nestled between the curves of her skin.

"Lyla is an interesting case. She uses people to keep herself afloat. Probably the only reason she's survived. Still, after her own protection, she does seem to work for the welfare of women -- although mostly it's been a losing battle. If women are to have a point person, she'd be my choice." Jordan refilled their wine glasses.

"Could Mason be vulnerable? Is that why she's so interested in whether Markus has documentation?"

"She interested in that?"

"Yes, and I agreed at the seminar to try to find out."

"I see. And that gives you a reason to talk with Markus again."

"Yes, I guess, but is Mason in jeopardy? Is Minz covering her bases?"

"No doubt Lyla's looking out for herself, and we need to also. I certainly wouldn't want to bet my career on Mason's demise."

"I see."

"Don't look so disappointed. You can still meet with your Mr. Mathews. It'd been a good idea to keep him informed at the least."

"Will you meet with us?"

"There's no need for me to. I would just be in the way. You already have Mary Cage complicating the situation. ... Look, I believe we could make each other happy. Indeed, I think we were meant for each other. ... But, you have a mind of your own. If you're going after Markus, I wish you the best. ... I love you and only want the best for you."

"You have women all across the state to love," Martha thought, but she said, "I wouldn't say, 'I'm going after Markus.' As you said, Mary complicates the matter -- considerably. Without her in the picture, Markus and I might develop our relationship, romantically. As it is, I just don't see how it can happen."

"Martha, my dear, Markus is attracted to you, not Mary Cage, for goodness sakes! If you want a courtship, you have to show a little willingness -- that's all."

Martha finished her bite of lasagna and laid her fork across her plate. "Still, I'd like for you to meet with us."

She refilled her goblet with wine before looking back into Jordan's eyes. "What a wonderful meal! I missed you and am so glad you're back."

"Well, thank you. ... If we are finished, we can move into the living room where it's more comfortable."

"Let me help with the dishes."

"That's what dishwashers are for. I'll just put a lid on this pan and put it in the frig." Jordan moved as she spoke to show how easily the feat was accomplished.

"Come on." Jordan reached her hand out and Martha grasped it in rising from her chair.

"You're so graceful. That pants suit really highlights the beauty of your form when you move." Martha sat on one end of the sofa and turned at an angle to face her friend, who lit on the opposite end.

"Well, thank you again. You look super in that outfit yourself."

Martha looked down past the white mounds of her blouse to the hem of her skirt, which revealed some of her thighs. "Thank you," she said taking a drink from her goblet.

"So much for our mutual admiration society."

"I do admire you."

"And I, you. ... But you want me to meet with you and Markus? You want me to be a little birdie, to play cupid?"

"Don't you dare!"

Jordan laughed. "Like two school girls. I could pass him a note for you."

Martha found herself laughing, too. "I just don't want to make any more mistakes, political mistakes. I was obviously so wrong in my assessment of this place. I don't want to be out on a limb again. Too much is at stake."

"I see. You want me out on that limb also." Jordan laughed again. "Lighten up. Everything'll work out. We just need to keep our cool. What's at stake is you and Markus if that's what you want. Anyway, I'll be there. Are you thinking the Wagon Wheel after lunch?"

"Uh, sure, that'd be good. I'll talk with him after class tomorrow -- if he's there."

"You wore the earrings I got you. We match, somewhat."

"Yes, I noticed your necklace. Was it a gift?"

"Well, somewhat." Jordan lifted the tear drop from her bosom and smiled.

"I see," said Martha looking at the hand holding the crystal. "I best be going. Tomorrow is a school day."

"Must you?" Jordan asked rising as Martha did.

"I know you must be tired also with the drive back from Madison and all."

"Not at all. This evening has been most relaxing."

"I think that should have been my line. I've enjoyed it very much."

"If you must go, let me help you with your coat."

Again, Martha thought about the previous evening as she slid her arm down the sleeve. Still, she felt the warmth of her friend and was happy to have her home. So, with the service completed, Martha expressed her appreciation with an embrace. "Thank you for a delightful evening and thank you for being you." Having said that, Martha kissed her mentor on the cheek.

Jordan said nothing until Martha opened the door. "You're welcome. ... Are you in good enough condition to drive home? You did have a bit to drink."

"I'm fine. I'll be careful."

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