The second week of September commenced with a profound shift in the weather, at least in the central belt of Scotland. Whilst Sunday and Monday had been fine, hot even, with clear skies and a lazy sun hanging overhead with no interest in moving on to his legendary home beneath the horizon at night, Tuesday came as a bolt from the blue, as it were, with those sunny days and warmer evenings abruptly consigned to memory as temperatures dropped by several degrees Celsius. The famed and infamous Scottish winter was threatening to be a nasty one, and sending out harbingers to terrify the inhabitants, sending them into a flurry of tedious overhead gossip about how bad each and every one of them worried the coming true winter would be.
For my own part, as I waited on an overcast Tuesday afternoon for the arrival of Jemma for her second lesson, I found there to be merit in my retrieving from storage, or as I also knew it, the back of my second best wardrobe, one of my light cardigans, in this particular case one of charcoal grey and not at all tarred by the brush of ghastly golfing styling. It was, rather, a sober affair, well suited a retired gentleman of late middle age, and as such I found there to be a modicum of bolstering to my professional ego as I donned it over my almost ubiquitous white shirt and tie.
As I sat in my living room, drinking Earl Grey tea served with sacrilegious milk and sugar, and accompanied by a small side plate of custard cream biscuits, my mind, again, fell back upon my conversation with and revelations obtained via the agency of Vernon. I still had a not inconsiderable difficulty in assimilating what he had told me of his seemingly career-long dalliances with students who combined desperation, discretion, and desirability into a sufficiently enticing package as to encourage him into providing the kind of personal tuition that, had it ever been known of by those in positions of bureaucratic power and authority, would have earned him an instant dismissal if not, were the head of the school or the head of the university someone of particularly keenly felt public morals, a possible charge of an altogether more criminal stripe. His revelations had been, I found, so contrary to what I had held to be meant and encompassed by the term ‘professional’ as to challenge my very notions of what that term meant.
Indeed, just what did it mean?
As Vernon had pointed out, there was, frankly, nothing that could act in such a manner as to prevent me from delivering my teaching to the best of my capabilities whereby, on that reading, my professionalism was and would ever be unchallenged.
Likewise, now that I was free of the ever increasing obligations and stipulations of modern contracts of employment which sought to place moral codes of conduct upon lecturers and professors, contracts whose remit extended to all aspects of one’s personal life, whatever professionalism may mean in that context I was no longer held under any kind of external restraint thereby releasing me to act as I wished with no possible professional impugning of my reputation.
Which left me where, precisely?
I had always considered that, no matter how distracting a student might be, a sense of duty to education which I took to mean professionalism meant that one should not, ever, in any way, act or respond to such temptations. The foibles of being human meant that is was impossible not to notice, from time to time, the presence in one’s life of a particularly arresting student, but that noticing should and must always be the end of the matter, and certainly not the first step on the path to self-destruction.
Yet, had I not done precisely this, first with Trudi, and now, with her friend Jemma? Had I not allowed matters to progress far beyond my simply noticing them, but, in a very peculiar way, to going so far as to grant them licence to continue and even extend the lengths to which they were to go in their exhibitionistic conduct?
Moreover, Vernon had shown me that, not only was it possible to act upon one’s inclinations were capable of doing so with sufficient discretion as to be able to hoodwink, if not the world, then at least one’s academic colleagues, but that it was possible at the same time to maintain a professional attitude to teaching and to those other pastoral aspects of the pedagogic calling, notwithstanding, as he had put it, taking those opportunities one deemed safe enough to sink oneself deeply into the physical being of a willing student.
I determined that I positively refused to allow these revelations of Vernon’s to change my professional opinion of him; he had been and had always been a first rate lecturer and colleague. I may now, with retrospect, wonder as to his personal conduct, but he had never cast a shadow upon the Goddess of Professionalism and, as such, the only complaint I might have against his actions would be as to his duplicity with respect to his fellow colleagues in whom he had shard no confidences.
More importantly, however, was the question of how this might be relevant when applied to my own context?
Perhaps only this; that I should, with discretion and complicity, simply enjoy what was freely given, take nothing, not even nothing for granted, and, frankly, stop losing quite so much sleep over the actions of the Misses Maclean and Sherrod.
“Quite so!” I said, to no-one in particular, and set to the utterly pleasurable task of finishing my tea and biscuits, the clock on the wall warning that Jemma’s arrival was not too far away.
“Hallo,” said Jemma as I opened the door, and found, rather than the immaculately turned out student of the week before, but an altogether less composed and more bedraggled figure standing, dripping, on the step into my home.
It had, without my noticing it, begun to rain, and seemingly with a deal more enthusiasm than Jemma had prepared for.
“Please, do come in,” I said, stepping back as Jemma carefully stepped past me, trying not to drip too much on me or the hallway carpet.
“Sorry,” she said, looking over herself in explanation.
“If you care to wait here a moment,” I said. “I shall return with a towel so you may dry yourself.”
“Thanks!” said Jemma, her tone indicating a deeply-felt gratitude for an unanticipated act of kindness. Truly, had she expected me to leave her, sopping, to catch a chill?
Heading upstairs for a moment, I soon found a bath towel from the airing cupboard and took this back down to Jemma, delivering it to her where, seemingly, she had stood without moving.
“Oh! It’s warm!” she said.
“Airing cupboard,” I explained. “Now, tea? Coffee? Hot chocolate?”
“Wow! Er, hot chocolate?”
“Of course. If you wish to repair to the student’s room...” I said, we both knowing to which room I was referring, though I had yet to settle on a permanent and personally satisfactory term for the room.
“Cool,” said Jemma as she headed for the said room whilst I made for the kitchen, preparing her a cup of milky hot chocolate, and a small espresso for myself before I returned to the student’s room.
Thinking nothing of its being closed, I opened the door without knocking – it is, after all, my home – and was surprised to find Jemma, naked as the day she was born, standing in the middle of the room and vigorously rubbing herself, down and dry.
“Oh,” she said, looking embarrassed not, I felt, at being naked, but rather at being caught naked.
“I, ah, I had anticipated you would use the towel to dry your clothes, with you still wearing them,” I said. “Though truly, now, I think perhaps that I had not fully thought matters through,” I added, as if that were an explanation. For a moment I thought of offering to retreat from the room until Jemma was more fully attired, but then I thought, too, of Vernon’s abjurations, of how I had seen Miss Sherrod in similar manner in the past, of how she was not in the least discomforted by my discovery of her in such a state of undress, how she was equally lacking in discomfort at continuing to remain undressed, making only the most desultory and half-hearted, if that, attempts to continue to dry herself as I set our drinks down on the desks, and how, frankly, I was enjoying the sight of her dark skin, her aroused nipples, and her tightly trimmed pubic hair. Taken in combination, I did as I now promised I would continue to do, something which I had not done before and which I would not have countenanced before, namely, to allow the situation to continue. “Should I turn up the heating, or will you dress?” I quipped, taking my seat, and continuing as if it were the most normal of practices, that of offering a student the option of nudity, or not, during their lesson.
“Oh,” said Jemma who had clearly not anticipated such a turn of events nor such a response from myself. “Er, could you put the heating on a little anyway, but I’d like to get dressed, if you don’t mind,” she said, obviously a little confused that I was not behaving as, it seemed, she had expected me to. Had she planned to be caught to get some reaction from me? And, what had that anticipated reaction been, that this reaction were not, somehow, acceptable to her? Such musings were something for me to consider later, but, for the present, I pootled off in search of the thermostat – which is, of course, as it always is, in the hallway – and took sufficient time over such a trivial and insignificant task that, by the time I returned, Jemma was mostly dressed once more, though her tie was now folded away from sight, and she seated at her desk, books out ready, and sipping her hot chocolate.
Thus did our lesson commence, she still and throughout a mite distracted, I felt, by my comportment, though not so much as to interfere with her studies. She was, I had already seen and already realised, a rather focused young woman. The time passed, the lesson concluded, and the envelope from her parents was handed over.
“You seem a little distracted,” I observed as Jemma began to get her things together preparatory to her return home.
Sitting down on her chair once more, Jemma turned to me and said, “Honestly, you surprised me today.”
“Oh?” I asked, not because I was unaware of the cause of her confusion, but, rather, as a means of prompting her to display her thinking on the matter, not the least that I might gain further insight into her position on the matter of nakedness before her tutor.
“Yeah. I mean, well, you know I stripped down to dry but it was also to see what it would be like if someone were to catch me naked, and, er, and to let you see me too, y’know?”
“Indeed,” I said. “As to the former, that was, upon reflection, a perfectly sensible if unanticipated action for you to take. As to your desire to discover how it would feel for someone to ‘catch you naked’ as you put it, I would observe firstly that if this is something which you intend on repeating in other circumstances, you should reflect deeply upon who might so see you and what their reaction, for good or for ill, might be. I will not insult your intelligence by suggesting that all men are Dworkian rapists, but, given your physical attractiveness and the passions to which some men are subject to, exposing yourself in such an uncontrolled manner may end badly. You may also wish to reflect upon the different ways in which other people may react upon so discovering you; not everyone would be likely to dismiss such actions as adolescent self-discovery. Do you understand?”
Jemma nodded slowly, her demeanour clearly sobered, my point having been made.
“As to the final point which you raised, Jemma, whether or not you ‘exhibit’ yourself is now and must only be your own choice. Do not do so wondering whether or not it might please me, rather, do so only because it pleases you. Do you understand?”
Jemma nodded. “Yeah, but, honestly, I get, er, tingly when I do that kinda thing, when I show you me, so yeah, it pleased me, but yeah, I think I did it in part because I thought it was what you wanted to see too.”
I shook my head, but only lightly lest she confuse the negation of her thinking with a negative opinion of her youthful beauty. “Did I enjoy seeing you like that? Of course. Did I want to, no. It is not for me to want, not least in that if you see yourself and your exhibitionism in such terms, then you are surrendering a degree of the power over your actions to your imagined desires of another. Whether or not you are happy to so act is your choice, but, in the context of your time with me, I feel I must simply remind you that your primary purpose here is to learn; should you feel the need to add the element of nakedness to our time together, I would urge you given the most serious of consideration as to whether this is detracting from your studies, and whether you are acting out of your own desires or your imagined desires of another, in this case, myself. Do you follow?”
Jemma nodded slowly. “I think so. I mean, yeah, I get that I’m here to study, but sometimes I think I’d like to play too, if you’re okay with that, and, I think, as long as I’m studying okay, you’d be okay with the other stuff too. So, next time, study first, and maybe a titty later?”
I could not but help but laugh at her form of expression. “As you wish, Jemma. Now, given that it is still raining and I wonder if you are yet fully dried out, might I offer you a ride home in my car?”
“That’s settled then. Shall we?”
“Er, before we go, er, Simon, you’ve got a class with Tru on Thursday, yeah?”
“Okay. Look, I’m only saying it because I’m her friend but, when you see her, don’t be all ‘stern teacher’ with her, okay?”
Puzzled, and also never wishing to commit myself to one pedagogic posture or another, I asked. “Has something happened?”
Jemma nodded, sadly, I thought. “Okay, so, you know it was her birthday on Sunday?”
“Indeed, she seemed rather excited about it.”
“Yeah? Well, that kinda didn’t work out. You know her Mum’s got a boyfriend, well, he was there on Sunday and, well, from what Trudi said he kinda took her Mum’s attentions.”
“Oh,” I said, knowing full well how happy Trudi had been in anticipation of her birthday, and knowing also how upsetting it can be if one’s birthday is frustrated or disrupted in any way.
“Yeah, ‘oh’, as in ‘oh f–’, er, sorry, er, as in, oh that’s not a good birthday ‘cause you know she doesn’t like him. Anyway, she’s not been to school this week yet, says she got her Mum to buy that she’d got a bad period, and she’s not, ‘cause she’s never had a bad period, she just eats a bar of chocolate and she’s fine, so I know it’s not that but, anyway, when you see her, Thursday, could you, y’know, be a bit gentle on her? Please?”
“Of course,” I said. “I shall give her a ‘bye’ this week, if necessary.”
“Okay, cool,” she said, and that was that. One brief car journey later, Jemma was at the door of her home, giving me a quick hand-wave, and was gone.
Thoughts of what might or might not have happened to Trudi over the course of her birthday, however, flittered around my mind for the remainder of the day, not least in that she had said nothing nor sent me any kind of message indicating anything had happened. Though I had no right to expect such a correspondence, she was, I therefore concluded, seeking to keep her private disappointments to herself, to deal with them on her own manner.
It was, rather, with images upon my mind’s eye of Jemma’s soft breasts moving in response to her towelling of herself and the way in which her trimmed pubic hair moved in and out of view with the movements of the towel that I retired for the evening, and it was only as I settled down to seek the solace of sleep that the thought came to me – what, now, of my self-vaunted conceptions of professionalism?
By Thursday, the weather had done little to moderate its enthusiasm for ushering in winter as quickly as it could, and I had swapped my light cardigan for an equally light, tasteful, and darker charcoal grey sweater. I had also done what little I could in terms of programming the central heating of my home such that, on those occasions when the middle-aged male is forced to wake during his nightly rest and visit they euphemistically vague ‘small room’, he was not forced to do so with a chill to the air, pyjamas notwithstanding.
I had, too, failed to come to any great conclusions over Jemma. When first she had sent photographs of herself in various states of undress and undressedness, aided and abetted by Trudi, I had, perhaps presumptuously, taken it for granted that she, too, would make a regular show of herself for me as Trudi did. However, her actions and our conversation just this Tuesday had forced me to reconsider my stance on the matter and to question my preconceptions as to the anticipated, as well as the worrisome antics, of said students. Jemma, it seemed, pursued her nakedness with an altogether different agenda from that of Trudi in that, whereas the former disrobed for the purposes of existential personal growth and sheer unadulterated fun, the latter did so for either the physical response to placing herself in a sexual situation, the so-called ‘tingle’, or else for a more determined exploration of her own nascent sexual feelings, perhaps with a shading of self-determined necessity to explore such feelings and situations as she might someday write of.
It was, I realised, all connected with an understanding of the calculatedness of the actors involved.
Where Trudi’s breast might fall into view, it was because of a deliberate manoeuvring of events and circumstances by her, a button deliberately left undone, but the outcome of such a pantomime was undecided other than a generalised desire to enjoy herself, be it through exhibitionism of herself, attempted teasing of me thereby, or some combination thereof. In Jemma’s case, there was no such thing as an accidental incident of nakedness, and driving each and all such acts was a desire on her part to better experience or understand herself.
Yes, I felt, that was it, but had I truly managed to stumble upon the solution to the riddle that was at least one of my students?
In hubris I might believe so, but in humility I had to conceive that it was, at best, unlikely and that, ultimately, no matter how many years of teaching and tutoring lay behind me, the mind of the young, and especially that of the young female, remained rather more of a mystery to me than, perhaps, I felt that it should.
Moreover, neither knowing Jemma as well as I felt I knew Trudi, nor being privy to Jemma’s private passions and ambitions, she remained, I felt, in her own ways, equally as unpredictable as Trudi. Though I had little doubt that Jemma, like Trudi, would figure nakedly in my future, the details and situations of which I must resign myself to as remaining both unpredictable and likely also surprising.
Having once more resolved and concluded nothing, really, I looked up from my abstraction to the clock and saw that it was time to leave.
As was now our ritual, I arrived at the threshold of the Maclean household at a prompt 4pm, rang the doorbell, waited as Eighty was excluded from our company, and was greeted by the primly polite in public Trudi, still dressed in her school’s uniform, though now with the addition of a jumper against the sudden onset of colder weather. It added a degree of sexlessness, or, perhaps, genderlessness to Trudi’s appearance which I found oddly disquieting, especially given her drive to explore and exhibit the obvious femininity of her form.
As I took my accustomed place on the sopha, I could see that Trudi was clearly distracted, her attention being so far from the here and now as to have driven her to forget her duties as a host such that she had failed to offer me a drink. Given the degree to which Sandra had schooled her in her manners, and that those manners were of already established and praised degree, that she should have forgotten or neglected such a matter as basic hospitality spoke, I thought, to her worries about her birthday.
I was, as it transpired, both correct and also incorrect.
Finally, I could take her inability to settle and get her things in order no longer. “Trudi, please, sit down and tell me, what is the matter?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Sorry. Wasn’t here. Well, I was, I am, of course, but, er, mind’s elsewhere, you know?”
“I can see, but I do not know,” I said. “Not until you sit down and tell me what it is that has your attention so vexed and abstracted for I fear that until you relieve yourself of whatever it is that is obsessing your thoughts, we shall not be able to proceed with your lesson in anything approaching a meaningful and successful manner.”
“But what about the lesson?” Trudi asked, her question a model of the unexpected in that she often played the game of not wishing to study, whereafter she would, of course, work three times as hard as she needed to in order to demonstrate her actual capabilities and dedication.
“Our lesson can wait, not the least because, until you rid yourself of whatever it is that is obsessing your thoughts, you cannot concentrate on anything.”
“Ha. You sound like Mrs. James in English.”
“A perspicacious woman, by the sound of it. Now. Sit. Talk.”
“Okay,” Trudi sighed as she sat down on the sopha opposite to mine, kicking off her ballet shoe style slippers and drawing her legs up beneath her, looking like nothing so much as the clichéd image of a bored or frustrated teen-ager.
“You know it was my birthday, on Sunday, remember?”
I nodded. “Of course. We celebrated as such a few days prior.”
“Yeah, that was cool, wasn’t it. Well, Sunday was all fine and good and whatever to begin with. Mum had bought me some music for my recorder, a nice new stand, and some clothes. Nothing extravagant, just not the stuff I wear all the time, so they were special.
“I could show you later...” she said, though I could tell her heart did not lie in such a direction, at least not yet, so I said nothing and allowed her to continue.
“Anyway. So, it was all good and fine and stuff until after dinner, lunch, whatever, y’know, the 2pm Sunday meal you came to the once?
“Anyway, we’d finished, Mum had cleared and loaded the dishwasher, and I decided to take Eighty for a walk. It was nice – God! The summer’s over already! – and so we went down the park, all round it, and back again. Nice. He behaved – I missed you not being there! – and all was good.
“Until I got to the corner of the street, and I can see his car.
“Of all the fucking– sorry, er, of all the days for him to come here – and he really doesn’t do that very often – well, he comes on my birthday!”
I nodded sombrely. I didn’t ask to whom she was referring. It was obviously her mother’s ‘boyfriend’ or whatever term it is that dating adults use to refer to one another once they have reached that stage in their relationship when they are, to borrow a frightful Americanism, ‘exclusive’.
“So, I wasn’t happy, but it’d been a nice day with Mum, Eighty was behaving as well as he ever does, so I thought, what the, er, so I thought it’d be okay.
“Everywhere Mum went, he was there. In the kitchen. Here in the living room. Everywhere.
“It, it was like it was a competition and he was trying to get her attention and keep it. On my f–, er, on my birthday!
“God I hate him.
“Anyway, by eight o’clock I was sooo fed up with it I went to bed.
“That made it worse!
“I guess he thought it was ‘okay’ ‘cause it wasn’t much later I heard them come to bed, and then I heard them, er, well, Mum’s not quiet, okay?
“God, my birthday, my birthday, and he fucks it up for me, and I’m sorry for saying it that way, but God! I had a better time with you in the cinema than with Mum after he got here.”
Trudi paused a moment, wiping away what was not an entirely imaginary tear. “Y’know, I know I shouldn’t, I know Mum likes him well enough, and I guess he treats her okay, I suppose, but, well, I really don’t like him, and I’ve tried, and I wish she’d dump him or he’d dump her or something, but they’re sooo okay with each other.
“He’s just sooooooo into her and nice to her and it’s like he’s got nothing left over for me or he doesn’t know how to be with me or I don’t fucking know but all I know is that was the shittiest birthday ever, in my life, ever!”
“Trudi, I’m so sorry.”
“Thanks Simon, I know you are, I knew you would be, but, well, yeah, it was what it was, y’know.”
“Have you tried talking to your mother, about Sunday, about her ... partner?”
Trudi shook her head. “I did, once, last year, but she said I was too young to get it, and, well, I kinda got the idea she didn’t wanna talk about it with me, kinda like who she dates is her thing and not my thing and I don’t have anything to do with that thing.
“Or, I dunno, but she was kinda single for a time, and, I dunno, mebbe she knows he’s not the best because she can’t not know he’s crap around me but mebbe she doesn’t want to lose him and be on her own again. I dunno.
“Anyway, sorry for blowing up like that, but, it was my birthday! You know what I mean, don’t you Simon?”
I nodded. Parents compartmentalising their lives was one thing, but then developing a blind-spot with regard to how their lives could impact upon those of their children was something I could not imagine, it lying, as it did, outside the realms of my own direct experience.
There was, however, one matter upon which I felt I had to raise an inquiry, even if only to set my mind at rest on the matter. It was, ironically, a question much as I concerned myself over being made of my own conduct.
“Trudi, may I enquire, why do you dislike your mother’s partner so harshly? I trust he has not-”
“No!” Trudi interrupted me, guessing where my concerns and my questioning might be headed. “You mean he ever try something with me? No way. I’d fucking kill him if he did. Sorry. No, Simon, he’s never done anything nasty. He’s, oh I dunno, he’s just so not my type it’s almost funny. He’s not into ‘classical’ music and he’s not into studying and he’s not into us just Mum and all of that. He’s okay, I guess, if you like sport and a nice car and stuff, and I don’t think Mum is, I think she just pretends for him, and I don’t know why ‘cause I’m sure she could get a better one than him but she’s been seeing him a while now and she seems okay with it. I dunno. Mebbe, mebbe she’s just missing a man, no Dad, y’know, and mebbe, I guess, mebbe she’s worried if it ain’t him then who is it? Maybe that’s what she meant, that I wasn’t old enough, ‘cause last year I wouldn’t’ve thought’ve that.”
Dismissing her descent into concatenative idioms of a lower order of speech as markers of her distress, I felt compelled to suggest, “Perhaps you should approach her about it again? Although now might not be the most fortuitous moment to raise the matter as your mother may consider the conjunction of your birthday and his presence as too much to conceptualise at the same time, she may feel a guilt from her behaviour that edges into defensiveness about her behaviour rather than her choice of partner.”
“Er?” Trudi asked, a hint of a smile about her lips.
I had, I realised, expressed myself with excessive ornamentation. “My apologies, Trudi. Please, allow me to rephrase myself. Might I suggest you broach the topic of your discomfort around her partner again. Might I further suggest you do not do so quite at the moment, as your mother may find the closeness of your topic with the disappointment of your birthday, recognise fault therein, and become defensive rather than properly engage with you.”
“Wow, and you think that’s clearer, huh?” Trudi grinned. “Let me rephrase then. So. Have a chat with Mum about how I don’t like her boyfriend, but let things cool a little first so she doesn’t realise it’s ‘cause he made my birthday shit, ‘cause that might make her defensive and it might get into an argument instead of a discussion, right?”
“Indeed, precisely as I said.”
Thinking the cause of Trudi’s abstraction to have been dealt with, I asked, “So, are you ready to study now?”
Trudi bit her bottom lip and shook her head, three times, a sure and certain sign that something else was troubling her.
“Is there something-”
“Simon, I’ve got to tell you!” Trudi interrupted, something pushing her words forward as, unconsciously I was certain, she sat forward physically on her sopha.
“Very well, Trudi. What is it you wish to tell me?”
“Simon, you’ve gotta promise me, gotta promise me first, please, don’t tell Mum, or anyone, ever. Okay? I’ve not told anyone this, not even Jem, and I can’t tell her, but I’ve gotta tell someone or I’m gonna explode. Please, Simon, please promise me you’ll not tell on me?”
For a moment I cursed the lack of a beverage with which I might have otherwise have been able to give myself a less than obvious few extra seconds of thinking time but what, truly, could be so terrible as to require my being sworn to the kind of eternal secrecy that is the imagined limit of teen-aged anxiety. “Trudi, it is never my normal practice to give such an assurance of secrecy without even the slightest hint as to the subject which requires it. However, and to put your mind at rest, and perhaps driven a little by a concern that something positive be salvaged from what you are experiencing as a wholly negative week in your life, and especially given the coevality of this with your birthday, then yes, Trudi, you have my oath as to secrecy over what it is that you evidently want and feel that you need to tell me.”
“Oh Simon!” gushed a clearly and obviously relieved Trudi as she leapt from her Sopha, landed on mine, and hugged me with chaste enthusiasm, it taking more than the researched human ‘moment’ for her to realise what she was doing, conclude her hug, and pull back to sit at the other end of the commodious three seat sopha upon which I was seated.
“And so, with that out of the way, what, pray, has driven you to seek the opportunity of confessing yourself to me?” I asked.
“Okay. So. Y’know Sunday was my birthday and it wasn’t good, yeah?
“Right. So. Monday, well, I still wasn’t very happy. It was supposed to be a school day – he’d gone already – but anyway, I still wasn’t happy like I said, and I just didn’t wanna face anyone asking me what my birthday’d been like.
“So. I dunno if Mum guessed or figured it out or something, but anyway, I kinda dragged around and didn’t really get ready or anything and when Mum asked me what was the matter I told her that my belly hurt and that it was a bad period or something and I just wanted to stay home with the hot water bottle, and this was with it being sunny and everything outside.
“And it really was my period too. And I wanted to stay home... inside ... even though it was sunny out. Yeah, what happened to that? And this was just Monday!
“Anyway, I guess I did a good job of convincing her – or mebbe she knew Sunday’d been crap and she kinda let it happen – but anyway, she went to work and emailed a note to school telling ‘em I’d not be in at least until Tuesday, but she gave me until Wednesday before getting all stern and stuff.
“So. Mum’s gone, place’s mine, but I’m here alone ‘cept for Eighty.
“Anyway, it was sunny, and y’know it’s never gonna stay like that long in Scotland ... so ... out in the garden I go, drinks, crisps, chocolate, music on my tablet, and wearing one of the bikinis you’ve not seen.
“So, I’m having a great time, and I get thinking, I’m alone, Mum’s not gonna be back until the evening ... and I do look good with a tan ... and without tan lines.
“So, off comes the cop, off come the panties, on goes some oil, and there I am, all nude and stuff, lying on the big beach towel, getting tanned, and warm.
“And that was fine.
“But, well, I guess mebbe I’d eaten a bit too much junk food, but that and the sun and the being a bit bored just listening to the music, well, I kinda fell asleep.
“And that was fine too. I guess. Sorta. I didn’t oversleep, and I was up in time before Mum got home, and I was clearing everything away so’s she’d not know what I’d been doing, and I was just checking to see if we’d had any post when I saw the note on the mat in the hallway by the door, the note from Mikel, the window cleaner, the twenty-something window cleaner, saying he’d been by as Mum’d agreed on Monday and not Wednesday as he always does and how he’d cleaned the windows.
“I couldn’t believe it.
“I’d been out there, on the towel, fast asleep, and Mikel’s out there, cleaning the windows, and seeing me naked!
“But that’s not the worst of it!
“Oh no, I can’t get that lucky this week.
“No, worse than that, remember I’d got my period?
“Well he’d had plenty of chance to see me, not just asleep and naked, but with the string from my tampon dangling outta my pussy!
“Oh God! I can’t believe it! I must be cursed or something this week, I really must be.”
I shook my head, probably appearing as though I were commiserating with her, but in truth I was more than a little puzzled. Setting aside the mortification of being seen using a tampon, where was the difference, for her, between all she did in my company when held in comparison with her being accidentally seen naked by a younger man? Was that it, that she mistook my age for the heat-death of the male libido? Had she never heard of Mick Jagger?
“I’m sorry, Trudi, but please, explain for me, how is Mikel getting the opportunity of seeing you naked any different from my doing so?” I asked, trying to manoeuvre her away from reminding herself that, given her catamenial condition, Mikel had not only seen her naked but also at perhaps what might her least attractive, at least in the opinion of some.
Trudi sighed with theatrical exasperation. “Oh come one, Simon. Really? It’s just totally totally different.”
“Why?” I insisted, gently, as I had the impression that what Trudi felt was obvious, aside from not being so, was also something that might be an important clue to her behaviour.
For once, I was correct.
“Simon, when you see me, it’s because I want you to, okay, but Mikel, well, I might’ve sometime, but I didn’t on Monday, and, and he looked without my permission. He shouldn’t’ve done that. It was wrong.”
Trying the obvious, first, I suggested, “But Trudi, you don’t know that he looked.”
Trudi’s laugh was a bark. “Oh come on, Simon. He cleaned all the windows, front and back, and I wasn’t even half-way down the garden where the sun was. He couldn’t’ve not seen me – naked! – tampon string and everything!”
It was then that I had my epiphany, that moment of sudden and immediate knowledge that, in this especial case, abruptly took away from me many of the fears which I had harboured with respect to Miss Maclean’s exhibitionism.
“Am I to conclude and draw from this, then, that the issue with regard to your exhibitionism is not simply the enjoyment of the effect of your young body upon others, but that you must to some important degree retain control over that moment when you display yourself? You are not simply the actor in your drama, but also the director, the screenwriter too, even?”
Trudi sat back, silent for a contemplative moment before she spoke. “Yeah, that’s it, isn’t it. Yeah, that’s it! If I’d planned for it, then it’d’ve been okay, but I didn’t plan it, I didn’t even know he was doing it, so it wasn’t okay, ‘cause I didn’t make it happen and I didn’t get to see if he liked me, y’know, that way.”
“Truly, Trudi, you concern yourself with the idea that men might not find you attractive?”
“Oh come on Simon. I’ve little tits and funny coloured colourless nips. I’ve no boyfriend and nobody who wants to be my boyfriend. I’m still gonna be a virgin when I get to uni, if I even get to uni, and that’ll make it even worse and the bullying’ll just continue forever-”
“Huh?” she asked, her attention clearly on the monologue which was continuing internally.
“Trudi,” I repeated, this time adding not menace, but a desire for full attention to my voice, a tactic which seemed to work.
“Oh. Sorry. Yes, Simon?”
“Trudi, it is getting late, your nerves are undoubtedly on edge from these revelations, and so there is neither the time nor, truly, is it my duty as your English tutor to unpack all of what you have said.
“However, I would ask you to think over the following.
“With regards to your lack of boyfriend, given what you have previously expressed concerning your opinion of your classmates, I wonder is that not, perhaps, something of a relief to you that one of them is not your boyfriend, not least in that you give the distinct impression of being less than comfortable with the idea of being in the romantic presence of a young man whose only likely interest in you at this stage of his adolescence would be to gain access to the most personal and intimate areas of your body, or to manoeuvre your engaging yourself with his intimate areas, be that on a pro bono or a quid pro quo basis.