This chapter cannot begin without a few comments concerning some of the names and characters to be found herein.
Seonaid MacQuoid is a combination of three interesting people, perhaps giving the lie to the fallacy that writers conjure their characters out of thin air, sui generis. Her Christian name is taken from someone whom I went to school with, someone who was kind to me when she had no need to be, whose kindness and support might have cost her 'status' as one of the 'popular girls', and whom I have always cherished the hope that her life turned out well. We lost contact as soon as we finished school, and now, thirty years later, it has proven impossible to reinstate that connection but still, this is my little memorial to her, even though this character has nothing in common with the real Seonaid other than a Christian name. For Seonaid's surname, I turned to Google to find rare or unique Scottish surnames, and this is one of the rarest of all, so rare, in fact, as to be on the verge of 'extinction'. Unlikely that it is to happen, but being away that million to one shots happen nine times out of ten (Pratchett) I would like to emphasise that I have no idea of the character, mores, and morals of the MacQuoids of Scotland, and my apologies if Seonaid's adventures prove shocking, but I have to call her something. With regards to the descriptions of the physical form of SMQ, these are based upon an internet 'model' who came onto the soft-core scene a couple or three years ago, and caught my eye for being adorably cute, but also for engaging with the camera in such a manner as to suggest she found the whole 'pout with your pussy open for all to see' a rather humorous and incongruous way to earn her money. Indeed, there are few 'sets' where she does not seem to 'lose it' or to look into the camera as if saying 'really?' with her yes. Regardless of my response to her, not long after she seemed to stop modelling, internet rumours surfaced, rumours reliable in that they were based on her real and unusual Christian and surname, that she (and her boyfriend) had died in a car crash. I hope not, and there is no real way to be certain, but it is from her that I have derived my inspiration for Seonaid's look, and also, to a degree, my imagined reason why she is no longer modelling.
So there you have it. SMQ is a combination of at least three different sources of inspiration, and now happily playing away in my subconscious as I try to channel her presence into this story, giving Simon a whole new set of joys and worries.
Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear, one of those precious September days that is closer to the summer and the autumn, a reminder of what has passed rather than what is to come. I conjectured that I might have perhaps as much as another fortnight of such days where it was warm enough to enjoy my pipe in the park whereafter the weather would change, a cold edge would come through, and it would no longer comfortable to pass my time in such an indulgent manner.
I breakfasted a la Bond, that is to say upon whole-wheat toast, Jersey butter and a choice of Tiptree's 'Little Scarlet' strawberry jam, Cooper's 'Vintage Oxford' marmalade and Norwegian Heather Honey. To this I had added a pair of soft boiled eggs – "three and a third minutes" - and two cups of strong but flavoursome coffee, sweetened with soft brown sugar and diluted with fresh single cream. Generally I skip the second coffee and the second egg, but after the surprise of the previous evening and the MMS from Jemma, I felt that my nerves required extra coddling.
It was fortuitous that I had breakfasted promptly and comprehensively for, not much after the clock had signalled 10am with a subtle chiming that never jangled the nerves, my mobile phone rang, the announcéd number known though rather unexpected.
"Hallo, Vernon," I said, the caller being Vernon Taft, Professor Emeritus, a sometime colleague and sometime acquaintance of mine, though it had been the thick end of five years since last our paths had crossed other than electronically.
"Morning, Simon. I hear they put you out to grass," he said with his customary directness, a characteristic that had traumatised and scandalised both students and fellow staff alike until one realised that Vernon was entirely without malice, he simply didn't feel the need to play the game of 'tact' – and so he didn't.
Knowing this, I allowed myself a chuckle before responding. "Indeed they did, Vernon, though they did so in such a way as to leave me wits enough to enjoy myself before senility overcomes me," I replied, Vernon being a little more than twenty years senior to myself and having been retired for the last decade or so. Consequently, quips as to our respective senility status passing in the manner of something of an expression of normality between us.
Vernon's own chuckle confirmed he too was enjoying our verbal jousting. "Quite so, Simon, though I do have my occasional visits from private students to keep me ... sharp," he remarked, referring to his careful but continual affairs with his students, his predilection being for the long limbs of swimmers, but of whom, sadly for Vernon, there were few who sought out the alternate ways to remunerate the costs of their receiving 'hot housing' for passing their physics classes. "And you, still the celibate aesthete?"
"You would be surprised, you would be surprised," I replied, unthinking, and surprising myself; I had not intended to say much of my students to anyone, much the less to Vernon whom I had always considered as being rather high up on the list of persons lacking the requisite circumspection for such personal revelation and confession.
"Oh?" Vernon asked, his tone curiously interested in a way I had not expected him to be in my affairs, and more than a little at odds to his habitual interest being merely for the sake of gaining more lances with which to seek to best me in our jousting matches.
"Oh indeed, Vernon. I've one student whom I am already engaged in tutoring, with another two organising themselves, one of them for this afternoon, in fact."
"Simon, that's not like you," Vernon observed, his tone still a curious mixture of interested and surprised. "In the past you have studiously avoided private tuition, or at least you did when you were a salaried professor. I suppose things change," he observed, his tone sliding into affected nonchalance. "Care to tell me about them?"
I was about to speak before aftershocks from my nightmare sprang to mind, and I realised that Vernon's offer might be more meritorious and even potentially more productive than he could possibly have anticipated; for all his faults, I had always found and considered Vernon to be the most trustworthy of confidants once he realised and accepted that some things were decidedly not for public consumption. We had, in the past, had several long conversations upon the topic of my divorce and in that he had proven to be a true, if rather eccentric, friend, his tactless comments oddly insightful. Consequently, I moderated what I was about to say to something rather different. "You know, Vernon, that might be quite a good idea. There are ... aspects ... of private tuition that rather new to me, and if you're free for dinner - my treat, of course - then perhaps you would be interested in hearing more concerning my ... challenges?"
Vernon chuckled. "Pretty, is she?"
I shook my head. Circumspection, with Vernon, was both unknown and unattainable. "Very."
"And that's a problem because ... because she's made some advances on you?" Vernon surmised.
"Simon? Has she?"
"Indeed, Vernon, indeed."
"And you're unsure how to respond," Vernon said, a question and a statement in one challenge.
"No? Ah, then you know how to respond, but that response is giving you problems."
"Yes," I said, risking no more by saying no more.
"She must be very pretty."
"Yes," I sighed. "Yes, Vernon, yes she is."
"In which case, I am afraid my call today probably won't help you."
"Oh?" I replied, worried my responses were all depressingly terse, something of a contradiction to my normally veracious loquacity.
"I had a call myself from someone last week who was looking for help with her English. Her story is quite surprising, and she's looking to cash in on it somehow. You know of 'Belle de Jour' and the one-time anonymous authoress?"
I sighed. The minor storm of interest in Dr. Magnanti's revealed nom du plume had been slightly distracting, if only to watch various academics and others who should have known better give their various and incorrect opinions as to whom they had decided she really was, prior, of course, to the final revelation. Remembering this, I worried over what Vernon was about to suggest. "She's not a prostitute, is she Vernon?"
"Not really, Simon, though her situation is a little more complex than a simple 'no' would suggest. But, Simon, please do allow me to reassure you that she is not a prostitute in any way, shape, form, or manner, but the story of who and what she has been is, after all, hers to tell, not mine," Vernon said, pausing a moment before asking. "Interested?"
I was on the point of declining when I remembered that I was still desirous to find another student or two, and Vernon was not the sort of acquaintance to pass on a contact who was less than legitimate, however unconventional she may otherwise prove to be. She might not be entirely suitable for an invitation to tea with the vicar, as the phrase goes, but whoever this person was, if Vernon thought her sufficiently diverting to bring her to my attention, then I should trust him that far at least. For all of his faults and his dalliances with his own private students, Vernon was neither cruel nor foolish, and it had been he who had called me, clearly with this in mind, and with no obvious or likely benefit to accrue himself. Any putative dinner had, after all, been my suggestion, though now I sensed that that invitation was growing, changing, transforming itself into something that I worried I would have need of all the more.
Sighing, and perhaps against my better judgement, I asked, "So, how do she and I make contact?"
"I can pass her your phone number, if you're comfortable with that, or, if not, then you can have her email address. Do you have any preference?"
Suppressing the urge to observe that, nowadays, it seemed that my preference was for a certain Miss Maclean, I instead replied, "Email, I think, Vernon."
"Vernon, I'm not sure how she contacted you. I trust that you are acting in good faith in passing her across to me, but I'm not yet clear with regards to her motivations in approaching you in the first place, and consequently this leaves me less confident in how much I might want to become involved in her and her story. So, until such time that I am more reassured than I am at present, then, well, I have my reputation to my other students to think about."
"Other students?" Vernon asked, picking up on my unintentional revelation.
"Yes, Vernon, other students. The two other students I alluded to?"
"Ah yes! And are they also pretty, Simon?"
Again, I found myself sighing in response to Vernon's presupposition they to be both female and pretty. Are we all so transparent? "Not at all," I replied, chuckiling to myself as Vernon fell silent in expectation of an explanation. "The one, yes, could indeed be said to be pretty; the other, more handsome, I would venture. If it satisfies your interest then we can talk more about them too if and when we have dinner."
"Ah yes! Dinner! When's good for you Simon? Sometime soon I hope?" Vernon asked, his interest in my situation obvious, yet also not fully obscuring his genuine interest in helping me handle the difficult situation I had fallen into. And Vernon had never been known to decline the offer of a meal.
"Would Saturday night be convenient?"
"Indeed. Would you prefer I come to you or you come to me?" Vernon asked, referencing his place of domicile being St. Andrews.
"It's been not a little while since I visited St. Andrews, so I think my coming to you might work better in that regard; might I leave the making of reservations to you?"
"Of course. Someplace discreet but with at least a couple of stars?"
"Well then, Simon, I'll email you Miss MacQuoid's contact details, and you can take it from there but, Simon? Please, don't overthink her. She's nothing nasty, something quite modern, and her story is intriguing. I'm not sure how much help she needs to do what she thinks she needs to do to do what she wants to do, but from our meetings, she's an honest young woman who needs a little help, help you can easily give, and which might just help her get her life back to where it should be."
"Vernon, you make her sound more and more interesting."
"Of course I do, Simon, because she is. Did I mention, she's also quite pretty in a cheeky kind of way?"
"No, Vernon, no you didn't."
"Oh? Well, she is, if that helps, and I think it might, mightn't it, Simon."
"Indeed," I said, daring not to say anything more.
Vernon chuckled. "Give it a couple of minutes, then check your emails, Simon. I'll send you details of where and when for dinner later today, okay?"
"You're welcome, Simon. I know how difficult retirement can be if one has nothing to do. We've both seen them, the emeritus professors who've faded away into their books, into researches that led only to an untimely grave. That's not for me, and I wouldn't want it for you either, though it seems like you've already got a student or two to keep you sharp, but don't dismiss Seonaid until you've met with her. Okay, Simon. Until Saturday."
"Goodbye, Vernon," I said, and ended the call.
Reflecting for a moment on Vernon's words and the unexpected ways in which students were fortuitously being attracted to me, I retired to my study and woke my computer, my email client advising me that I had received several emails during the course of the morning, the latest of which was indeed from Vernon. Opening it, I noted down Miss Seonaid MacQuoid's landline number, her mobile number, and her email address. Vernon had also attached a small picture which I presumed Miss MacQuoid had sent to him, showing a woman of indeterminate height, a little on the slight side, with quite long blond hair, brown eyes, and a smirk to her smile. Vernon had not exaggerated in describing her as rather more than a little cute. She was worryingly so.
Deciding to hurl caution, though not, though never common sense, to the wind, I opened my mobile, set it to withhold my own number, and dialled Miss MacQuoid's mobile.
At the fifth ring, I was surprised with a confused sounding, "Hello?"
"My name is Simon Armitage."
"I think, perhaps, that Vernon Taft might have mentioned me to you?"
"Vernon... oh, Vernon, yes, yes, yes. Are you the English professor?"
"Not quite. I was the English professor, and now I'm the retired professor of English."
"I see, I think. So, you're the one who'll help me?"
"Perhaps, though I must confess that Vernon was rather, shall I say, rather circumspect as to precisely what it is you are seeking my help in connection with."
Miss MacQuoid giggled, a delightfully friendly sound. "Really? Vernon said as little as that? Oh, he's just too sweet."
"Sweet? Vernon?" I could not but help to chuckle. "I think, Miss MacQuoid, that is rather more your opinion that it would be mine. Howsoe'er, leaving that as something upon which we genteelly disagree over, might I press you to tell me a little something of what you are looking for? If you could clarify this point, then I can advise you whether or not I might be able to help, whereupon some mutually agreeable arrangement can be negotiated."
Again, Miss MacQuoid laughed. "Riiight. You always talk like that?" she asked, not waiting for a response before asking the supplementary, "Anyway, er, is it Mr. Armitage, or Simon, or... ?"
"Okay. So, Simon, first of all, please stop calling me 'Miss MacQuoid', you make me sound soo formal. It's Seonaid. Now, we need to talk about what I need help with, what help you can give me, and what it will cost me, but I don't wanna do this over the phone. So impersonal. Hard to judge what I say is true. So ... Simon ... I'm up in Dunblane, is that convenient for you?"
"Does that mean you can come up here? Or do I need to come down there, somewhere, wherever it is that retiréd English professors go to?"
"That would depend, Seonaid. Do you have transportation?"
"Nope. Can't afford a car. I can try dodging a train fare..."
" ... in which case, I can drive up to meet with you," I said, naming a small country pub which, fortuitously, Seonaid claimed to know, and which I knew to be on the outskirts of Dunblane and thus in walking distance of wherever it was where she resided. "But, if you are struggling to pay for a train ticket, how can you afford to pay for my services?"
Miss MacQuoid giggled. "So, no paying in non-standard ways?"
Suddenly I was alert and concerned. "That would depend, Miss MacQuoid, entirely upon what the nature of those non-standard methods might be."
"Miss MacQuoid again? Have I been naughty, Simon? Please, it's Seonaid, okay?"
"Very well, Seonaid, though as to your naughtiness, to that I cannot authoritatively speak."
Again, Seonaid giggled. "You sure about that? Anyway, that's kinda what this's all about."
"Indeed? Returning to my original question, however, quite what are you referring to when you speak of 'non-standard' means of payment for services rendered?"
"Oh, serious again, huh, Simon? Well, I'm trying to write down what's happened to me, to turn it into some kinda novel that I can sell, for money? So. I can't pay you now, but if this works, I can pay you later, okay? Maybe, oh, I dunno, maybe a percentage or maybe just a chunk of money once I make my chunk. Would that work? If not, then I guess there's no need for us to meet up, well, unless you fancy the idea of 'sponsoring' a cute girl lunch?"
I considered, for a moment, what it was that Seonaid was offering, or seeming to offer. Certainly her suggestion of help-now and pay-later was unconventional, but not unheard of, and my financial status was such that this would not preclude me from coming to such an agreement with her. Moreover, there was something in Seonaid's manner that led me to imagine there would be no need for us to go down the route of a formal contract binding us together in such a manner. Indeed, I considered this to be the kind of step too far for Seonaid, though in this I recognised that she may simply be naïve about such matters, though there was also something to her tone and her highly oblique hints to suggest she was not as naïve as most. The problem with a quid pro quo kind of agreement between us, however, would be how to square this with my avowed belief that a student performed better if they had some investment in the obtaining of the services I was offering. Quite how I might find a way to incentivise Seonaid, I could not yet conceive.
And yet, here she was, having somehow lighted upon Vernon, and now being prepared to risk skipping train fares in order to meet with me to discuss her becoming my student, or at least engaging my services in some form of editorship. Surely this spoke of a degree of self-motivation such as would preclude the need for my own motivational requirements.
No, I decided; there was no reason to decline Seonaid, and so I did not. "I believe, Seonaid, that we can come to some arrangement that is to the benefit of us both. That being so, would tomorrow be convenient for a meeting with you?"
"Really?" Seonaid asked, her checking of my affirmation redundant other than as an artefact of usual 'civilised' behaviour. "So you do wanna sponsor a cure girl to lunch then? Spunky! Er, lunchtime okay?" she asked, finishing rather hesitantly.
"12pm?" I offered.
"1pm?" Seonaid countered. "I'm ... busy ... in the morning and want to arrive looking my best, you understand?"
Though we were using the phone, I could not but help the habit of nodding, only momentarily remembering that she could not see me. "Indeed," I affirmed, being male and knowing only too well the rigours and trials which were necessary before a woman were ready for anything, even something as mundane as making coffee. That she and I were to be meeting over lunch, and the tenor of our meeting was of such circumspection that it could not be discussed over the phone led me to the humorous conjecture that, perhaps, twenty-four hours might not be sufficient.
"Okay, Simon, until lunchtime tomorrow, then."
Seonaid giggled at my vocal habit, adding, "Simon. Thanks. I, well, I guess Vernon's told you, I really wanna do this, but I really need a lot of help to get me there. I'll do the work, and you'll get, well, you'll get your cut of it, but really, Simon, I really appreciate this, even if it's just lunch and I've gotta find someone else, you're taking the time over me, well, I really do appreciate just that. We'll talk tomorrow, but, well, you'll see, even just doing that means a lot to me, okay?"
"Indeed, Seonaid, and I must confess, the more I hear about this, even such vague hints and suggestions as have been communicated to me thud far, well, I am intrigued to learn more, and perhaps also to help you achieve this ... this whatever it is, if it lies within my power so to do."
Again, the giggle. "Yeah, Simon. Just what you said too. Till tomorrow, bye," she said, adding a kissing noise to her salutation before closing the line, not waiting for me to respond, her brevity not, I felt, from rudeness, but from a certain directness of purpose which I felt sure had commended her to Vernon.
Closing my own phone, I put it back into its charger and headed to the kitchen, first to prepare my lunch, and later to prepare myself for the my first lesson with Jemma, not the least of which preparations included the swift purchase and assembly of a small desk and chair to be added to my study and to which her lessons would be addressed.
4pm duly arrived, and with it came the anticipated knock at my door.
Taking advantage of my reflection in the hallway mirror to straighten my tie, I opened the door to find none other than the entirely expected Miss Sherrod, stood upon the threshold and looking as freshly scrubbed and ready for work as might any industrious student at 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Clearly not quite expecting me to answer at that precise moment, I also caught Miss Sherrod in the act of doing that thing which all women do, namely re-arranging their hair in such a manner as to be too subtle for mortal men to be able to discern the slightest of differences between pre and après.
I took the moment to drink in the vision before me, thinking how charming she looked dressed in her school blazer, both it and her blouse in that state of almost impossibly clean perfection which is always to be found at the beginning of term, though in her case I confidently reflected that this neatness and even potential fastidiousness would likely endure to the end of the academic year. There was to Miss Sherrod a whiff of the 'just so' about her such that I could imagine her to be sure to drive any potential partners to distraction with her endless preening. Were they to be able to accept that, however, I was certain they would find themselves attached to a genuine beauty.
"Mr. Armitage," she said somewhat and understandably nervously.
"Miss Sherrod," I said, my tone more relaxed than was hers. I held the door wide, indicating for her to pass within, which she promptly did before coming to stand before me in the hallway, her arms crossed at the wrists as she held her satchel – an actual black leather satchel, I noted, and not one of the backpacks of ignominy – and waited further direction. Obligingly, I informed her that, "If you go upstairs, my study is the second on the left, with the bathroom directly in front of you, should you need to 'freshen up' before class. Would you care for a drink?"
"Oh, er, okay. Er, do I need to call you Mr. all afternoon?" she asked, her tone suggesting she hoped not yet acknowledging that she may have to and would be happy to do so, should I so require.
"Only if I need to call you Miss," I replied with emphasis, smiling so that I might yet further put her at her ease, her anxiety obvious; she was, after all, in an unfamiliar location, for what I presumed to be the novel experience of individual tutoring, and with someone whom she had met with but once and only briefly.
Smiling a little, Miss Sherrod offered me her right hand. "Jemma?" she suggested.
"Simon," I replied, taking and shaking her hand with what surprised me to be a confident though not aggressive grip.
"Me first?" she said, the faint trace of a smile touching upon her lips as she nodded towards the waiting staircase.
"Indeed," I smiled, we both knowing full well there was more than mere manners at play in our exchange.
With the merest flicker of a smile to her lips, Jemma promptly turned and made her way upstairs with what could only be described as a dramatic yet appealing flounce. It was, I felt, a good look for her to adopt, a look to be admired from behind, and especially when done for my benefit, as there was no doubt that it was. Trudi's posterior, I considered, was the more attractive of the two – for me, and what other measure for such was there? – yet the slightly greater athleticism of Jemma's bottom was not in any way devoid of charm; were I a younger man, it may even have tipped the balance of being the superior of the two, but with middle age comes a lessening of one's appreciation for athleticism and an increasing appreciation for the comforts of life.
Having waited for her to reach the top of the stairs, only then did I announce that, "I'll bring the drinks," as I turned and headed for the kitchen, not quite wishing to provide Jemma with the opportunity to turn and see my admiring glance.
Consequently it was but a minute later when, good to my word, I strode into the study, two glasses of orange juice in my hands. Jemma was already seated at her desk, her jacket neatly hung over the backrest of the chair, and her English books set out upon the surface of the desk, all precisely arranged, the very model of the efficient and nascent scholar.
"For me?" Jemma asked as she saw me enter, drinks in hand. "Thanks," she said as she reached up and took her glass from me, draining fully a third thereof before setting it down upon her desk, carefully segregated from her books.
"So, this is your first text?" I asked, nodding at a slender collection of short stories that was prominently displayed, taking the opportunity of her response to sit down myself.
Jemma sighed. "Yeah, it is."
"You've read it?" I asked, Jemma's forlorn expression of agreement suggesting to me that she had.
Jemma grinned. "We only got it a day ago."
"Oh," I responded, slightly sad that she had seemingly succeeded in misleading me as to her scholastic enthusiasm.
"But yeah, I've read it," Jemma grinned, happy in her little deception.
"Really?" I asked, my opinion as to her dedication duly restored, though problematized by her subterfuge.
"Yeah, really, Simon. I'm an English geek, y'know?"
"So you are, Jemma, evidently, so you are. In case of which, then, tell me, what did you think of it?"
"Indeed. As you know, this year you must be able to assemble your thoughts and, to some degree, express those thoughts."
Jemma sighed, took a deep breath, and began...
An hour later, Jemma and I had somewhat artfully dissected her text, concluding there to be passages of interest, passages of passing interest, and passages of tedium. With a novel, that was tolerably acceptable, but in a collection of short stories, as Jemma had observed and as I had concurred, such variability of quality was not acceptable.
As we made our way to the kitchen to deal with the empty glasses, Jemma leading the way and affording me, once more, an opportunity to enjoy the vision of her lightly muscled haunches as she walked, I reflected that I really needed to address the matter of the MMS images which I had received. I had not hithertofore planned to do so, but felt that this was an opportunity to 'nip in the bud' something that might easily progress into deeper and more troubling waters.
If only I had not thought of 'nip' and 'bud' then perhaps our brief conversation might not have gone as it did.
"Jemma?" I asked as she placed the glasses in the sink, unsure whether it was for her or me or later for them to be rinsed.
"Simon?" said Jemma as she turned, slightly confused what I might be broaching.
"There is a matter upon which we need to have a discussion," I said, my tone suggesting importance but not severity.
"About... ?" she asked, anxiety and concern inflecting her response such that I wished that I had not commenced along this path, but, now, there was nothing to be done about it and matters required seeing through to their conclusion.
"I think you know what about, Jemma," I suggested, hoping that tactfully avoiding explicit reference to the topic might yet, somehow, communicate my intent.
"Oh," Jemma responded, regretfully, and clearly understanding what I wished to broach with her.
"Why, Jemma? Surely you know all the reasons why that was not in the least an appropriate thing for you to have done."
A smile hinted at the corners of her lips. "You deleted them then," she said, a hint of asking to her statement, and a further hint that she did not for a moment believe that I had.
Not answering her, I pressed on. "Jemma, you cannot fail to understand at least some of the problems this could cause, some for you, a lot more for me. So, I must ask again, why did you do as you did?"
"It was ... to see if I could."
I shook my head; this was not the response I had been expecting. "I don't understand."
"I told you, I wanna write plays?" Jemma asked, it being clear this was the first step of some process of explanation she wished to engage me in.
I nodded, unclear where this was leading.
"And I, I might need to act my own plays?"
"You mentioned something of the kind, yes."
"I, ah, I did some thinking, about that. And, and Trudi talked with me. She said she'd help, that it'd be fun and you'd be cool."
"And how, Jemma, does that connect with your sending me such an image, such images if, as you suggest, Trudi was your accomplice?"
Seemingly not quite answering my question, as though she were working from a script she had prepared ahead of time, Jemma tangentially explained. "It was so scary to do that, Simon, but, but I need to learn, how to do it, and to do it more."
I felt Jemma was making less sense by the moment, and so I asked, "Because of what, Jemma?"
"Because, because that's part of life, and if I wanna write about life, I have to be ready to write about that too, and..." Jemma smiled a little uncertainly, before adding "and tits sell tickets."
I shook my head, unable to contradict her. "This isn't the way..."
"I know, and I'm sorry, but when Trudi and me got talking, and, well ... it just seemed the obvious thing for me to do. Sorry, Simon."
"How is that, Jemma? Please, explain to me, how it is acceptable or appropriate or otherwise excusable for your to take explicit pictures of yourself, to have someone else take explicit pictures of yourself, and then send those pictures to someone whose life could be thoroughly and irrevocable destroyed if the existence of those images were ever to be revealed?" I said, not quite able to mask my anger at her dangerous selfishness. Had she been less beautiful sans clothes I might have been yet more harsh, but my objective was to awaken her to the risks and the caution, not to prevent her continuing or even escalating her behaviour.
I was not unaware of my own anxiety to see more of Miss Sherrod than had hithertofore been the case; if it were that I was to be damned, then I was determined I should be damned for the entirety of my libidinous folly.
Jemma looked stunned. "I, I didn't think that, I, I didn't mean-"
"Jemma!" I said, a trifle harshly, but I didn't wish her to become distressed over this, not least in that distressed was not one of the prescribed forms for returning a student to her parents.
"Yes?" she said, her voice timid.
"Please, sit down a moment," I said, gesturing to the kitchen chairs. "I understand what you meant by doing this. You were seeking to experience something which you think you might need to write about, if you are to write about real life and the experiences of real people, am I correct?"
"And you have little experience of yourself as a person of sexuality and desire?"
Again, more hesitantly, Jemma nodded.
"And, also, you have little experience of someone seeing you as a sexual person, even a sexual and sexualised object?"
Once more, Jemma nodded.
"So, from your own perspective, you considered that, no doubt because of the advice of Trudi, that there would be a measure of safety for you to begin to explore all of this by sending such images to me. Am I correct?"
"But you didn't mean to cause offense, and you failed to fully consider the full range of implications of your actions?"
Again, a brief nod.
I sighed. This was the moment when I could and would authorise her continuance, but it had to be carefully managed.
"Jemma, there cannot be any more pictures, do you understand?"
"Yes ... but..."
"But I still, I still need to get comfortable..."
"With yourself, as a sexual person?"
Again, the nod.
"Do you not consider that, perhaps, you might be a little young to be starting out down that road?"
"Oh I've not just started-" Jemma began, then abruptly halted as she realised what she had begun to say.
I held my hand up. "Jemma, that is truly none of my business. Let's try this differently. Why the desperate urge to do this?"
At once I knew I had taken the right tack; Jemma visibly relaxed.
"I've started writing something ... it's about a girl, like me, who's not sure if her best friend might be ... more ... and so ... one day ... they're in her friend's room together ... and she takes off her tie..." Jemma said. For a moment, her eyes held mine, before, once more with that slight smile, she too unfastened and removed her tie.
My throat suddenly dry, I watched in silence, we both knowing and understanding what was about to transpire.
"And she unfastens her blouse..." Jemma said as, entirely predictably, she too unfastened her blouse, untucking it from the waistband of her skirt and carefully removing it to reveal her coffee-coloured skin and the plain black brassiere that kept her small yet delightful breasts in their place.
"And then she takes off her bra..." Jemma said as, with shaking hands and a determined eye that could no longer maintain engagement with my own, she reached behind and unclasped her brassiere. For a moment, she held it in place, wondering, perhaps, if she should continue or if she should not, if she had reached the limit, perhaps for today, perhaps for forever.
Neither of us, I think, was breathing.
Looking up from under her eyebrows, I caught some of her determination, and knew what was coming.
Biting her bottom lip slightly, with slow and deliberate movements, Jemma took a firm hold of the straps of her brassiere and removed it, placing it atop her blouse, and leaving her sat there, topless before her tutor.
She was, obviously, beautiful.
Her breasts were perhaps a cup size or even more larger than were Trudi's, though this is an expression, rather, of the smallness of Trudi's breasts than any greatness of size of Jemma's. There was also a curious suggestion of softness to Jemma's breasts, a lack of firmness which, given the obvious athleticism betrayed in flexing of her haunches, suggested an enigma awaiting revelation. Moreover, I noted again, now in the flesh rather than via any virtual form of expression, Jemma's areolae were dark as the bitterest chocolate, notably smaller than Jemma's and, presently, her nipples were clearly, obviously, and almost painfully erect. Tangentially, I felt that whatever was driving Jemma's sexual excitement was somehow different to that felt by Trudi, that this was something else or something more than the simple thrill of exhibitionism.
"Do..." Jemma began to say, but then stopped and took a moment to lick her lips and swallow, her throat clearly as parched as was my own. Shaking her head as though to clear her thoughts, Jemma suddenly grinned and sat up, straight as a die. "Do you think they'll sell tickets?" she asked, her eyes flicking downwards for a moment, unable to prevent herself from giggling at the incongruity, even the absurdity of her question.
"Indeed," I coughed.
"Really?" Jemma asked, uncertainty rather than vanity seeking confirmation of my expressed opinion.
"Er, well, er that's as far as I've got so far," Jemma confessed, shrugging and thereby confirming the softness of her breasts. "The bra..." she added, not a little reflectively.
I nodded, there being nothing else I could do.
"Well?" Jemma asked, it not being entirely clear what she was seeking my opinion upon.
I swallowed in a dry throat, twice, before feeling sufficiently confident to respond to her inquiry. "Do you consider that this moment of personal self-revelation has helped you, in some way or some ways, with your ambitions to be a playwright, to add a degree of authenticity to your intended topics? Has it, perhaps, at least informed something of your ability, or otherwise, to be able to perform your own material?" I asked, finishing more strongly than I had begun, my confidence growing as I resumed my tutor's persona, my moment of ephebophilia passing, at least for now.
"Maybe," Jemma conceded, adding, "But I think I might need to do this some more, if I'm going to be able to perform ... on stage."
"Indeed. And that would be 'more' as in... ?"