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 13

Martha buttoned the powder blue jersey dress over her new bra. Markus had not seen the dress since that Sunday afternoon. She hoped it would produce a similar reaction when he saw it today -- given he came to class. Surely he would. Students generally became more alert before an exam.

She put on the camel coat and slipped into the beige heels. Looking in the mirror, she realized that the coat provided possibilities for various poses. With the coat buttoned completely, she had one look; by fastening only the bottom buttons, she had another; and, with it open, the options multiplied. All the looks pleased her.

Martha became aware that she felt no sense of incrimination against herself while admiring her reflection. "I'm better," she thought. "I can accept love -- even pursue it. My father's problems are not my problems. I no longer need to hide ... behind books, ... or behind Jordan, ... or behind my lofty position. Hypocrisy and self interest rule. I can live in that world. I can even have a normal life within it."

Martha walked into the classroom with her coat buttoned. Markus was in his place and she felt his eyes as she walked to the front. She arranged her notes and undid the top buttons before she began. He was watching.

A student asked about the test before she could introduce the topic for the day. She answered tersely. After spending Friday answering questions, she felt some need to cover the remaining material for the test. She began the lecture and another hand went up. She answered another question about the test.

The next question came from the front corner of the room. As Martha turned in that direction, she checked to see that Markus was watching. Then, seeing an opportunity to introduce part of the lecture material into the answer, she decided to capitalize on the students' desire to talk about the test. Weaving the new content into their discussion of the test made the process more interesting. The text contained the thrust of her presentation anyway.

After she answered the question, she finished unbuttoning her jacket and turned toward a student with his hand raised in the back of the room. She smiled at Markus as her eyes passed his. He did not respond.

Again, Martha linked sections from their assigned readings to her reply. Then, Mary asked specifically about a point in the assignment which Martha had planned to clarify. "That's an excellent question. I didn't think the book was completely clear in that section," she said and glanced at Markus. He was smiling. Martha surmised it was a result of Miss Cage's doing well. Still, his eyes were on the teacher.

"Let me see if I can clarify," Martha continued as she turned and went to the board. The explanation was lengthy, but Dr. Knight maintained a continual link to the exam, giving hints as to which aspects might be more testable, how it might be asked and answered on the test.

Everyone's attention was focused on her. Her focus returned repeatedly to Markus. Each time, he looked down at his notes. She had his attention, but did not seem to be making contact.

Still, Martha was happy with the extent of her explication. When she finished, there remained only one section of material which she wanted to cover. Less than twenty minutes remained for her to find the opportunity to discuss the information and to make the link with Markus.

Two brief answers later, a student asked about inter-library loans. The answer could be short. Then, Martha thought about the end of the conversation with Markus at her apartment. He indicated he could wait until the term was finished to have dinner with her.

Thus, after supplying the short answer, she added, "If you want to see the item this quarter, you might have to stay open to other possibilities. You might have to make something else work." When she finished, she looked at Markus. He looked preoccupied.

The next question was, "Will the material for today be on the test?" Martha used it to discuss the remaining section of her notes. Her discussion ended with the hour. Several students approached her with additional questions, but Markus was not among them.

Jordan was walking toward her when Martha left her 11:00 class. "Glad to see you!" The greeting seemed to surprise Jordan.

"Was Richard here?"

"No, I still haven't seen anything of him. I've just had difficult classes today. It's good to see a friendly face."

"You weren't able to set anything up with Markus?"

Martha simply shook her head as she put away her notes.

"Don't think you'll need your overcoat. The sun's warm. Makes me want to skip the way we did before. Except we don't want to do it in these heels. That outfit's a knockout, by the way. More so than I remembered when you tried it on."

"Yes, the heels," Martha leaned closer to her friend as they walked, "and the bra helps."

"I don't know how you could've helped making an impression on Mr. Mathews."

Martha chuckled, "I think I did. I just didn't get a chance to talk with him -- too many students after class."

"And Miss Cage."

"I guess."

"Oh, yes, before I forget," Jordan said as they reached the diner, "I have a make-up lesson to give at noon on Wednesday."

After they had their food, Jordan asked about Miss Cage again.

Martha acted nonchalant. "What about Miss Cage?"

"Sure!" Jordan said sarcastically, "And it doesn't matter to you that he has some commitment to her? Looked to me like she's in love with him."

"As you told me at your place, he's attracted to me not Miss Cage."

"Yes, ... but we also agreed that Mary complicates matters."

"Yes, and his decision to transfer complicates it more. As I see it, my first task is to get him to reverse that decision."

When Markus turned in his test on Wednesday, Martha whispered, "Can I see you?"

Markus frowned quickly as if in thought and in a soft voice replied, "During your office hour tomorrow?"

Martha nodded in assent.

"You wanted to see me?" Markus asked on entering Martha's office the following day. His tone was serious.

Martha thought, "He isn't going to make this easy for me." She looked at him and forced a smile. "I wanted to say, I've been wrong."

"About what?" Markus asked, taking the seat before her.

"About everything ... from the beginning. My haughty attitude. My insistence that you call me Doctor. My suggestion that you leave Bliss. ..."

"No, in that, you were correct. I have no business here. That's why I'm transferring to State. They have an excellent journalism program, you know."

"Yes, I've heard."

"Bliss doesn't even have a communication department."

"You don't need a department. Consider all the experience you've already gotten here, and things will improve when we get rid of Mason. You could get lost at State."

"Don't think so. Dr. Foster has given me some contacts already. I'm going over there for a visit weekend after this one. Looks as if I'll go to work for the paper right off and will get to apprentice at the t. v. station."

Martha looked at him for a moment. "I don't want you to go."

"I'm afraid it's a little late to back out now."

Martha continued to look at him.

"Dang it! You're the most frustrating woman I've ever seen! I can't back out now!"

"You told me you could wait until the semester was over. It hasn't been four weeks since you told me that in my apartment."

"Four weeks? It might as well have been four lifetimes for all that's happened!"

"We can work it out ... if you'll just stay. You just have to remain open to the possibilities." Martha smiled, but Markus remained serious.

"It isn't working here. There's no guarantee Mason won't survive. At State, it appears I can have everything you said I could."

"I said you could have it here, and you still can!"

Now, he looked at her and shook his head. "Why, oh why, didn't you say you wanted me to stay the last time I was here?"

"I don't know. ...I was hurt. ...You accused me of things I hadn't done."

He looked at her still, questioning her with his eyes.

"I told you earlier, I was wrong. What more do you want me to say?"

"Nothing for you to say. I think you've been right all along. I don't belong here and we don't belong together."

"Don't cast the die so quickly! We're just getting to know each other," Martha said and, then, thought, "I'm just getting to know myself."

"The decision to go to State has been made, ... and I think it's a good one. ...As far as our ever having anything together, as I said last time, I just can't plan my life on it no matter how ideal those plans might be."

"I see. ... But, I can't see how it can be over between us before it even gets started. You told me once that Fate brought us back together. You seemed to think it was meant to be then. You said you'd never forget me."

"I won't ever forget you. ...I'm not sure why Fate brought you back in my life -- a love I couldn't have. Perhaps it was a reminder that I'm anything but perfect ... to be happy with what I do have. Perhaps it was just to get me out of here. I no longer hope that it was meant to be."

"Don't give up hope yet. State isn't that far away, is it?"

"Not in miles, maybe, but it can be a world apart."

"Well, let's not let it!"

He looked at her and smiled, "We can try."

Martha tried not to let Markus' intransigence bother her. It was still three weeks until the end of the term. She was certain that Mary planned to transfer also, which would account for his feeling of commitment, his stressing its being too late to change. Jordan was correct: Mary complicated matters.

Martha dressed in nylon coated in wool the next morning. She admired the fit in the mirror. She recognized that she looked the way her daddy wanted her to: sexy but not cheap. Jordan would probably enjoy seeing the outfit also. She had helped pick it out.

"It doesn't matter that some people might have unhealthy thoughts when they look at the human body. The form isn't evil, and what I want is healthy and right," Martha thought.

Attendance was poor that morning. She was not surprised. The students figured the exams would not be graded so quickly and finals were way into the future. What did surprise her was that neither Mary nor Markus was there. Then, at the beginning of the lecture, they entered together.

Again the thought danced across Martha's mind that Mary complicated the situation. Still, Dr. Knight was pleased to have her star students in class. Although, Mr. Mathews was fairly unresponsive, Miss Cage compensated by answering any question which Markus -- or anyone else -- was unable to. Martha knew that she would miss Mary when she transferred to State. Still, her leaving and Markus' staying seemed a workable solution. The male population at state was bound to have someone ideal for Mary.

After class, Mary, with Markus a few steps behind, approached Martha. "We just wanted to apologize for being late, again," Mary began. "We had some creative problems in getting out the paper. But, we know you're going to like it." Mary smiled and handed Martha the paper.

Martha took the sheet and looked at Markus. He had his head bowed. She looked back at Mary, who nodded, turned and walked away, followed closely by Markus.

Martha waited until she was in her office to read The Fact Finder. One piece was by Mary Cage. It was a tribute to professors who cared and were attempting to improve Bliss. The clear implication was that the board should attend to the faculty's call for Mason's resignation. Still, Martha felt honored to have received a copy of the tribute by its author.

Lyla Minz was waiting at lunch time. Dr. West joined them on route to the Wagon Wheel. They talked of the weather. For the end of October, it was a lovely day.

"You seem unusually quiet today, Martha," Lyla said after they had their food.

"Her man's transferring to State," Jordan volunteered.

"Mr. Mathews? But, I thought ...," Minz looked back and forth between the two of them.

"You thought Jordan and I were romantically involved." Martha glared at Lyla. "That's what you told Markus."

"Well, ... yes." Lyla looked to Jordan as if for support. "That's how it looked."

"We were just trying to protect Martha from Richard Astor."

"What?" Minz looked back at Martha, "Protection from Richard?"

"Yes!" Jordan responded. "He was harassing her!"

For several moments, Minz continued to look at Martha, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I tried. You told me what a fine Christian he is and insisted I be his protege."

Lyla shook her head, "Well, of course I don't have all the details. Still, I'm sorry if I contributed to making you uncomfortable." Turning back toward Jordan, she asked, "Well, has the strategy worked?"

Martha responded, "No, not really. He's one of the few we didn't fool. Still, something worked. I haven't seen him in two weeks."

Lyla, now focused on Martha, said sincerely, "Well, do keep me informed."

"Sure," said Martha as earnestly as she could.

"I'm still confused by this Mathews thing. The last I remember, he was pestering you and you advised him to leave Bliss."

"You remind me of that?" Martha shook her head. "That was back at the time you opposed everything he represented. Now, you've climbed on his bandwagon. In between, you drew him into a trap to frame him for plagiarism and used me ...."

"I what?"

"You got me to encourage Markus to take The Beacon internship so as to frame him for plagiarism, giving Mason a reason to expel him."

"Who told you that?"

Jordan intervened, "Are you saying it's not true?"

Minz turned to West. "I did encourage her to talk with Mathews. I thought The Beacon slot would be good for him. I also thought he'd be good for The Beacon. I won't claim I foresaw what's happened, but I'm not surprised by it. I certainly did not plot to have him expelled."

"And you've opposed Mason all along?" Martha asked sarcastically.

"Mason had done much good for this school," Minz spoke to Knight, "and The Fact Finder was dysfunctional. However, Mason's a chauvinist who has thwarted women here at Bliss and been a major hindrance to their careers, including mine."

"Well," said West, "you may very well want to talk to your fine Christians Astor and Carter separately about the frame up plot. As I understood it, the whole committee was in on it."

"Look at the time!" said Lyla. "We better get back."

They walked in silence until Jordan turned toward the music building. "See you at Carrie Nation?" Minz asked.

"I'll be there. See you there, Martha?"

"I think I'll pass on it today. Got all those tests to grade."

Jordan looked disappointed. "Well, call me when you need a break."

As they continued walking, Martha asked, "Did you tell Markus I was a lesbian for the greater good of Bliss, also?"

"I made a mistake, Martha; and, for hurting you, I'm truly sorry. I understood that you had no romantic interest in the lad. He's obviously taken with you. I thought I was doing him a favor. Still, though, I'd think he'd change his mind if you asked him to."

"Afraid not. I asked. Seems he has made a commitment over at State."

"Those mean nothing."

"No. The stronger commitment is to Mary Cage, I'm afraid. She's a student in my class also."

"I see. Well, you know there are still over two weeks and finals left in the quarter," Minz said in parting.

Martha maintained a fairly good focus on grading papers that evening. Minz's denial of all wrongdoing distracted her periodically, as did her own lack of self control in the conversation. Still, she marked the exams at a steady pace. She never called Jordan.

Jordan called her on Saturday and asked, "Don't you think you need a break from those papers? You know what they say about Jack also works for Martha."

"I've taken breaks, but I've had other things to do during them."

"I see. Did you ever think having someone with whom to do the other things is what friends are for?"

"Yes, thanks, but I just need to be alone to think and catch up on some of this paper work."

Martha saved the 9:00 class for last. She wanted to make sure she had her criteria and her standards well established before facing the papers holding personal involvement. Markus' exam reflected both his intelligence and his absences and earned a B+. Mary's paper permitted the teacher to forget about the need for objectivity. It was clearly the best paper of all of her classes. Martha realized that she and Bliss would miss both of these students if they stayed true to their decision to leave.

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