Whitney Pennington paused outside the classroom and took a deep breath. Like so many other college freshman, the short haired blond found her first day of classes at Northern California State a rushing kaleidoscope of sights and sounds. One that, at times, seemed overwhelming.
She didn't think it possible, but her heart was racing even faster than it had been when she woke up this morning. Too nervous to even try and have breakfast, she'd settled for just a cup of tea to settle her nerves. Whitney couldn't remember the last time she had spent so much time picking out clothes as she had last night. She finally settled on a rather simple yellow blouse and blue skirt. First impressions were always the most important, or so she remembered her mother saying while she was growing up. Not for the first time today, the tall woman wondered if this whole college thing might have been a mistake.
"It's just nerves," Whitney said to herself as she took a second deep breath to calm herself. "I'm sure every college freshman goes through the same thing."
With that, she stepped through the door and into her afternoon history class. What she didn't say to herself was the fact that most nervous freshmen weren't fifty-one years old.
The buzz of conversation stopped for a moment as she stepped into the room. The same thing had happened in English Literature earlier in the day. Most of the eighteen and nineteen year olds mistakenly assumed that she was the Professor and stopped what they were doing. This time, rather than add to the confusion, Whitney quickly moved to the closest empty seat and sat down. This brought a new topic to the conversations as they realized that she was also a student.
A few minutes later, the actual History Professor walked into the room. To Whitney's surprise, even she was at least twenty years younger than the new freshman. She introduced herself as Professor Rodriguez and welcomed them to Late Twentieth Century History.
Whitney listened intently as the Instructor outlined the syllabus for the semester, taking notes of the highlights. The more she listened, the more Whitney thought she was going to like this class. She had always been fascinated by history. If things had gone differently in her life, she might have considered becoming a teacher herself.
But as someone once said much better than she ever could, life was what happened when you were busy making other plans. Whitney had found herself pregnant the summer following high school graduation and back in those days, there was no consideration of not getting married. In 1965, the sexual revolution had yet to come to Greenridge Falls.
As bad as her situation seemed back then, the seventeen year old had it a lot better than the last two girls in town who found themselves in the same predicament. Whitney loved the father of her child, and he loved her. Stephen Pennington had been her very best friend practically since kindergarten. No one even raised an eyebrow when they rushed to the altar.
What followed were three plus decades of married life that saw two more children added to the fold. It was an almost perfect life, one that only ended, in the words of the minister so long ago, "till death do you part."
At fifty, Whitney found herself a widow with three grown children, two of whom were married. To that, she could add three grandchildren, a newborn girl and two teenage boys. Her oldest son, Jack, had grown up working in the family business and easily took over when her husband died.
After a year of just keeping herself busy, Whitney had mentioned to her daughter Diane that she was thinking of taking a few courses at the local University. Something to pass the time and indulge some of her interests. The youngest of her children immediately thought it was a great idea and encouraged her to enroll the very next semester.
"You'll love it," the twenty-six-year-old accountant had said. "You'll have a lot of fun, and think of all the cute guys you'll meet there," she had laughingly added.
Whitney had to laugh as well. Ever since she had hit puberty, Diane had boys on the brain. If you compared photos of Whitney and Diane each at sixteen, you would've thought them sisters rather than mother and daughter. Just as tall as Whitney, Diane had inherited her bust as well. A fact that wasn't lost on the boys in her high school. Her hair was a darker blond than her mother's, but they both had a perpetually cheerful face.
"Sure, I can see them now all lining up to date the old lady," Whitney had laughed in return. "After all, just think how popular someone who can walk into a liquor store and buy beer can be."
Joking aside, Whitney had agreed with her daughter and enrolled for a few courses. Aside from a few moments of hesitation, it had so far been a good experience. By the end of both the class and Professor Rodriguez's introduction, the older woman was glad she hadn't chickened out. Something she had considered a few times.
"Excuse me," a voice from behind Whitney said as the classroom was emptying out. "Are you really a student in this class?"
Whitney turned to face the owner of the voice. A young, clean shaven man with black hair and a baby face. A few inches taller than Whitney, he had the look of an athlete about him.
"Yes I am," Whitney said in a tone that was a little defensive, "believe it or not, I'm a Freshman."
"Oh I didn't mean anything by it," the young man, who Whitney estimated was no more than nineteen, said as he quickly caught the defensive nature of the older woman's tone. "I just thought you might be someone auditing the class, that's all."
"I guess I am being a little defensive," Whitney said in a kinder voice. "Let's start over. I'm Whitney Pennington."
"David Jordan," he said with a warm and wide smile. "It's nice to meet you."
"And it's nice to meet you, David Jordan," Whitney smiled back. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, I asked if you were really a student because if you were, I was wondering if you've given any thought to a study partner for the course?"
"A study partner?" Whitney repeated.
"Yeah, there's a lot of reading in this course and I figured that it would be a lot easier if I had a partner," David went on. "History's never been my best subject and I admit I could use the help. When I saw you I figured you might be a good choice."
"Who better than someone who's lived most of the history that the course covers, right?" Whitney said.
"Oh, I didn't mean it like that," the young man quickly said. "I just saw how you were taking so many notes and figured that you were someone who was going to take this course seriously. Most of the students take this class just to fill the history requirement. I hope to do better than just squeak through."
"Why don't we have a cup of coffee and talk about it?" Whitney suggested. "That is if you don't have another class or anything more pressing at the moment."
"That would be nice," David smiled.
As they walked out of the classroom, Whitney felt that despite their age difference, she had just made a new friend. Not a bad start for her college career.
David, as it turned out, was older than Whitney had first assumed. A sophomore and already twenty-one, he was getting a late start on college life as well. But not as late a start as Whitney, the older woman had laughed.
A star pitcher on his high school baseball team, David had originally planned to go to college on an athletic scholarship. An injury to his shoulder in his senior year had cost him that chance. His arm had since healed, but he'd never regained the speed or accuracy that might have been his ticket to the majors.
Determined to still get an education, the dark-haired young man had gone to work and saved every penny he could to pay his way. Then, finally, David had managed to get enough of a non-athletic scholarship to make up the difference and here he was.
Over the next two months, David and Whitney became good friends. Most times it was easy for Whitney to forget that she was old enough to be David's mother. A frequent visitor to the Pennington household, David struck up a friendship with Diane as well. For a while her maternal instinct took hold and Whitney hoped the friendship between the two young people might lead to something more. But it quickly became apparent that friendship was as far as it was going to go.
Midterm exams appeared on the horizon before they knew it, and Professor Rodriguez lived up to her reputation as one of the hardest graders on campus. When the grades were posted, only a third of the students in her class had passed. Of that third, Whitney and David had the eighth and tenth highest grades, respectively.
"We need to go out and celebrate," David said as he read off the posted grades to Whitney over the telephone late that afternoon.
"I'm afraid my celebrating days are a little behind me," Whitney said as she tried to imagine the wild partying that would be going on in the dorms following all the stress of exam week. "You go and have fun, and then you can tell me all about it."
"It won't be any fun without you," David countered. "I'd have never have passed that test without your help."
What had appeared to be a joke the day he'd asked Whitney to be his study partner, had instead turned out to be their secret edge in class. Having lived many of the events they talked about in class, Whitney brought a personal perspective to the lessons. It was a whole lot easier to learn something when you thought of it as something more than a bunch of lifeless facts and figures from a book.
.... There is more of this story ...