Claire Roselli paused at the sound of the doorbell, glancing up from the last of the dinner dishes in the sink to the wall clock above. The clock read a quarter to seven, pointing out to the forty year old that she was running about thirty minutes late. At least according to the evening’s original plans.
Laying that last dish on the drying rack, Claire dried her hands on a nearby towel and then walked the short ten feet to the apartment door. It only took a further few moments to undo the double locks, the bulk of that time used to glance through the peephole to verify the identity of her caller. Not that she had any doubt of it at all.
The locks undone, the door opened to reveal a stout, curly haired, black woman about ten years older than Claire. Dressed in a pair of jeans and a non-descript blue blouse under her coat, the woman also wore a look of impatience on her face, one that quickly became more intense once she saw that Claire wasn’t even dressed yet.
“You do remember that the class starts at eight sharp,” Patricia Grant said without preamble as she stepped inside the apartment, “and that you were supposed to meet me at the bus stop almost twenty minutes ago.”
“I remembered ... both,” Claire said as she closed and locked the door behind Patricia. “I meant to call you, but I lost track of time.”
Patricia’s look said that she wasn’t going to buy that as an explanation. Not with her friend’s almost compulsive obsession about always being on time for things.
“Okay,” Claire admitted, knowing that her lie was a poor one, “I guess I was just thinking that maybe I’d skip the class this week and...”
“And you figured,” Patricia said, completing Claire’s train of thought, but not in the way she had planned, “that if you waited until the last minute to tell me, like you’re doing now, rather than mention it at work this morning, or even call me at home an hour ago, that I wouldn’t have time to talk you out of it. In fact, I wouldn’t have time to do much of anything if I had any plans to catch the bus and make it there on time.”
Now it was Claire’s expression that gave a non-verbal reply, one that said her plan had been something like that.
“Well, my friend, it wasn’t a bad plan,” Patricia smiled. “In fact, it probably would’ve worked. The only little flaw in it is that we’re not taking the bus tonight, because Benjamin left me his car when he went out of town for the weekend. So we still have just enough time for you to march your little tail into that bedroom, trade that old housecoat for something more appropriate, and still be on time for class.”
Claire hesitated for a moment, considering if she should say she also wasn’t feeling well, but then thought better of it. Even if she was a better liar, she would never be comfortable lying to a woman who had become her best friend these past few years. And it was quickly obvious that Patricia wasn’t going to take any excuse short of her being ill.
“It’s taken me almost six months to pry you out of this apartment and there’s no way I’m going to let you slip back into that pattern of spending Friday nights camped out in front of the television set eating junk food,” Patricia said. “If I can’t convince you to go out and meet someone, then I’m going to make sure you at least go out.”
Claire wanted to say that she liked television and junk food but thought better of it. It would’ve been a poor thank you for all the trouble Patricia had gone through over her this past half year. So keeping her retort to herself, she instead gave her a smile of surrender and said she would be ready in a few minutes.
Stepping into the bedroom, while Patricia waited in the living room, Claire undid her light blue housecoat and tossed it across the chair by the bed. Since she wasn’t expecting anyone other than Patricia, she hadn’t bothered with any undergarments when she had changed clothes earlier. Standing naked in front of the dresser mirror, the short haired brunette took a few moments to look at the reflection facing her. Her first thought was that she didn’t look bad for her age, certainly better than her mother and both her aunts had looked at this point in their lives. Women today, she reasoned, were better informed and more motivated to take care of their bodies.
Of course she could afford to lose a few pounds, but what woman of any age didn’t think that? Her breasts, while comparatively average in size, were still firm enough to defy gravity on their own, and those proverbial extra pounds were spread evenly enough across her body that she did not look overweight. Not that anyone had ever used that term to describe her. Her legs were still trim and well defined, and the tiny bush that sat at the junction between them might have been lighter in color than it once was, but not excessively so. Men still found her attractive, she believed, so why was it so hard for her to move forward and put that thought to the test?
The answer, she knew, was closer than the mirrored glass. It had already been a year since her relationship with David had ended, but she was still finding it impossible to take that first step forward. After almost three years together, the unforeseen collapse of that relationship had left her in a state of free fall that she seemed unable to pull herself out of.
Eight years older than Claire, David had been a mathematics teacher at the same school that she and Patricia taught at. While the prestigious academy tended to frown on staff members dating, there was no official policy to prevent it. Besides, when she had first begun spending time with David, the idea of it developing into something more serious never entered her mind.
It had started off innocently enough, first shared lunches with a few other staff members, then more private ones with just the two of them. That led, in time, to an occasional drink after the day was done, again in a group at first, changing to a more intimate pairing after a while. By the time they went on an actual date, people had begun to wonder why it had taken so long. The dates quickly became more frequent, and in what Claire considered a surprisingly short span, given the pace that everything had proceeded at, led to the two of them sharing a bed. The public knowledge of which didn’t make some of the more conservative members of the school’s executive board happy, but there was little that they could do about it.
David had been twice divorced and understandably gun-shy about making a third trip to the altar, not placing much faith in the old saying that the third time was the charm. Having had her own marriage of over a decade end in divorce some years earlier, Claire understood his concerns, or at least felt she did, and was willing to settle for less than the ideal. They didn’t need a piece of paper, she told herself, and on the first anniversary of the night they had consummated their couplehood, Claire suggested that they move in together. After all, it wasn’t like either of them was a kid anymore, and there were few people in their personal or professional lives that didn’t know they were already married in all but name.
To her surprise, David was adamantly opposed to the idea, insisting that he wanted to maintain his own apartment. Claire thought that a considerable waste of money, given the amount of time he spent at hers, but decided in the end not to push the point. After all, it was his money that he was wasting. Better, she told herself, to concentrate on what they had together rather than what they didn’t.
With their living arrangements settled, things went along their merry way for the next few years, with hardly a ripple of discontent from either of them. Therefore, it was something of a shock when, a week before the last school year ended, David unexpectedly announced that he was relocating to Florida to accept a teaching position there. Claire had been devastated by the pronouncement, especially since he hadn’t given her an inkling of his intentions. Not even when they had gone to Florida on vacation during the mid-semester break, and he had left her on her own for a day while he took care of what he termed personal family business. It was now clear that the family business had been an interview with the new school’s administrators. There hadn’t even been time to discuss it, because he was expected in Florida the following week for the start of the summer session.
Once the initial shock wore off and the summer began to wear on, Claire had tried to take it all in stride. She reminded herself that, in all their time together, David had never promised her anything more than what they had. Any promise for a more permanent future had existed only in her hopes.
While the logical part of her mind tried to concentrate on those facts, the emotional half took a far different tract - that David had been a lousy lying bastard who had used her and then tossed her aside. In the end, the emotional side had won out, but in that victory it had left her so mortified that she had retreated into a cocoon, locking most everyone out. At least until Patricia had stepped in and begun to drag her out of it. Kicking and screaming at first, symbolically if not figuratively, but then with a little less reluctance at time went by.
“Now that’s better,” Patricia said as Claire emerged from the bedroom wearing a dark blue, mid-length denim skirt and a white, sleeveless, button-downed blouse.
“I’m only doing this for you,” Claire said as she slipped her bare feet into a pair of black loafers that she had left by the couch. “I don’t want you to think that I’m unappreciative of all the things you’ve been trying to do for me.”
“I’ll take any reason as long as I get you outside these four walls,” Patricia smiled.
“But there is one thing that I did want to say,” Claire added as she took a light-weight jacket from the small wooden coat rack that hung by the door.
“And that would be?” Patricia asked as she picked up her own coat from the arm of the couch where she had laid it.
“I know we’ve been going to this class for more than a few weeks now,” Claire said as she put on the jacket, “but I still feel funny about it.”
“Oh we’re not going to start that again, are we?” Pat said, cutting her friend off.
“No, I mean it,” Claire said, just as quickly. “When you first told me you were going to sign us both up for a course at the community college, I thought you were talking about a book discussion group or maybe even a cooking class. I never expected it to be an art course.”
“As if I’m going to learn how to cook at this point in my life,” Patricia laughed as she put on her coat. “Besides, what could be more natural? You are, after all, an art teacher.”
“I teach art appreciation to a bunch of high school seniors, most of whom are totally indifferent to the subject and only take it for an easy grade,” Claire clarified in a even tone. “There’s a big difference between that and actually going into a studio and...”
“Wait a second,” Patricia interrupted, again cutting Claire off. “Did you or did you not once tell me that back when you were in college there was almost nothing that you enjoyed more than being in the studio in front of an easel with a palette and brush in your hands?”
“That was a long time ago,” Claire said.
“You never forget your first love,” Patricia grinned.
“Also back then, I used to do landscapes, still life and such,” Claire added. “The course you signed us up for was the male form.”
“I’ve never been very good at drawing people.”
“Neither am I, or anyone else in the class for that matter,” Patricia replied, glancing down at her watch, “but this gives you a chance to get better at it.”
“There’s also the matter of the models,” Claire went on, ignoring Patricia’s obvious hint as to the time.
“What about them?” Patricia went on as she started for the door.
“I sometimes feel that this class is nothing more than an excuse for a bunch of old women to spend their evening looking at half-naked young men.”
Patricia paused a moment, having to stifle the urge to laugh and told her friend to watch who she was referring to as old. Then she added, “You say that like it was a bad thing.”
Once she had actually said it out loud, Claire had to admit it did sound rather silly. The view certainly beat anything that was on the tube tonight, at least on any of the non-cable stations.
Patricia again looked at her watch, pointing out that if they didn’t get going, they really were going to be late. Claire grabbed her purse off the small stand by the door and together they exited out into the hall.
Luck and the traffic were with them and they arrived at the college with a few minutes to spare. Just enough time to get their smocks and supplies from the storage locker before the class started at the stroke of eight.
“Well, I’d like to welcome everyone back,” Madeline Petrowski, the sixty-something year old professor giving the class, said as she walked through the door and strode up to the front of the room. “It’s nice to see we still have a full roster, although it’s been my experience that this particular class has very few dropouts.”
There was a small measure of laughter in response to her comment, giving Claire the chance to look around the room at the faces of her fellow students. As she had observed more than once before, there were only two other women in the class younger than her.
“Oh, and we have one small change this week,” Madeline said as she settled in. “Michael, the young man who had been our model the past two weeks, had to unexpectedly quit the class, but you’ll be happy to know we were able to secure a replacement for him. Hopefully this won’t cause a problem for any of you.”
Claire could see a look of confusion on a few faces around her, adding to her supposition that most of the women were here just to stare at the model. Rather than having a problem with being unable to complete any unfinished work, most seemed rather pleased to have someone new to look at.
“So I would ask you all to welcome Clark and please do your best to make him feel comfortable,” Madeline said as she motioned to the doorway where a blonde haired young man had just appeared.
All eyes, Claire’s included, watched as he walked to the front of the room, stepping up onto the small stage, undoing the sash of his robe as he did so, and then dropped it to the floor below. In the second or third week of the class, Claire didn’t remember exactly which, there had been some idle speculation among some of the women as to the question of whether Professor Petrowski got to personally interview any potential models for the course. That question had quickly led to an even greater supposition as to what those interviews might’ve entailed, with a number of the students offering their own suggestions. It had been discussions like that which had led to Claire’s feeling that the class was only an excuse for frustrated old women to spend the night gawking at a scantily clad young man.
Like Michael before him, Clark was wearing only a rather brief black Speedo, one that did more to enhance his maleness than conceal it. Also like his predecessor, the young man had a body that while quite athletic was not muscle-bound. He assumed the pose Madeline directed him to, looking quite comfortable and almost unaware of all the eyes upon him.
“Still wish you’d stayed home and watched reruns?” Patricia whispered to Claire about the half way through the class.
“What?” Claire replied, seemingly startled by the question.
“You’ve been staring at him for at least a half hour,” Patricia smiled, “and there’s almost nothing on your drawing pad.”
Claire looked down at her easel as if seeing it for the first time, and sure enough, it was nearly empty. Normally, by this point in a class, she was far ahead of most of the other students.
“There’s something about him,” she whispered back.
“There certainly is,” Patricia replied with a grin.
“No, I mean something familiar,” Claire added.
“I think I know him,” Claire explained. “I mean I think he was once in one of my classes.”
There had been so many students over the years, and so many names. Added to the fact that she wasn’t even sure if Clark was actually his real name. Some models, she knew, used an alias to protect their privacy.
“Clark ... Clark...” Claire repeated over and over in her mind, using an old trick of added each letter of the alphabet to the name to see if it triggered any memories. By the time she got to S, it did. “Clark Stuart,” she said almost too loud, drawing the attention of the woman on her other side.
Claire waited until the woman went back to her work, and then leaned back over to Pat.
“Clark Stuart,” she repeated, this time in a much lower voice. “From about three or four years ago, and unless I’m remembering it wrong, he was in one of your classes too.”
“You know, now that you mention it, I think he was,” Patricia said as she tried to match the older version in front of them with the high school student she remembered. “Well, he certainly has grown,” she said wishfully as she finished comparing the two images.
“Patricia!” Claire said, shocked that her friend would make a statement like that, at least out loud.
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it,” Patricia protested in innocence, “but now that you point it out, I’d have to say, not bad for a white boy.”
Claire just shook her head, hoping that none of the other women heard the comment. Then again, as she now also found herself looking more attentively, it was a statement that she was sure that most of them would agree with.
Claire spent the rest of the class trying to concentrate on putting some semblance of effort into her canvas, at least enough to say she hadn’t spent the whole time staring at Clark. It turned out to be an effort with little success.
When she wasn’t staring at Clark and that part of anatomy hidden and at the same time highlighted by his attire, she kept stealing glances at Patricia and wondering what was going through her friend’s mind. Her fellow teacher was making no effort at all to disguise her attention to the young model, and had given up on trying to put down anything on her drawing pad.
Claire then found herself thinking back about a year and a half, to a night time presentation at their own school. When it was over, Patricia and her student teacher, a nice red-headed kid named Timothy Dugan, had stayed behind to clean up. Halfway to the bus stop, Claire had begun to feel a little guilty about having left the two of them to do so and turned back to lend a hand. When she got back to the small auditorium, she didn’t see either one of them but it was obvious from the still empty storage boxes that they weren’t done.
The sound of a metal chair hitting the floor off in the side corridor drew her attention and, thinking they were putting the chairs away first, Claire picked up two chairs of her own and went off in that direction. No sooner had she turned the corner, she was greeting with a sight that almost made her drop both of the chairs in her arms.
“Oh my God!” Claire exclaimed breathlessly, hoping as she did that it hadn’t been loud enough for them to have heard her.
She needn’t have worried because, when she thought about it later, she doubted they had even heard the loud clang of the chair they had accidentally knocked over. Claire knew she should get out of there as quickly as she could, but like a motorist passing an accident, she just couldn’t look away.
Patricia was propped up against one of the stacks of folded metal tables along the wall, the bottom of her dress hiked up around her waist, while the top was merely hanging loose, enough to expose her ample breasts. Timothy was standing between her legs, his pants down around his ankles. There was no question as to what they were doing.
Claire watched in shocked fascination as the skinny twenty year old slammed his cock in and out of the much larger black woman, causing her to wrap her legs around him while at the same time loudly and quite descriptively exhorting him to fuck her harder and faster. Strangely enough, that her fellow teacher was royally screwing her half-her-age assistant didn’t seem as out of place to the art teacher as the discovery that despite a masters degree in English, Patricia reverted, in the throes of passion, to a vocabulary more common to a dockside streetwalker.
The brunette was sure she had been standing there watching for minutes, yet in reality barely a full one had passed since she first turned the corner. As quietly as she could, Claire backtracked her steps and carefully put the two chairs back where she had found them. When she was well on her way back to the bus stop, she wondered why she had been so shocked. After all, despite his junior status, Timothy was of legal age, while Patricia was certainly twice that and more. Also, Pat wasn’t involved with anyone else at the time, Benjamin Brown being several months still in her future. By the time she was safely on the bus and headed home, Claire finally realized what it was she had actually felt. It had been envy. Despite being in the good years of her relationship with David at the time, Claire felt a bit of envy at her friend’s sense of adventure.
“Well, that’s all the time we have for tonight,” Madeline said, much too soon. “As I mentioned last week, we have to wrap it up a bit early tonight.”
Few of the students felt that even an abbreviated class hadn’t been well worth it and if any did, they didn’t express the thought verbally. Across the room they began to clean up their stations and gather up their tools. Clark had already exited once the class once it had been declared over, so with no further distraction it didn’t take long for most of them to finish.
“A few of us are going over to the Blue Room to have a drink,” Patricia said as she helped Claire finish her clean up. “Want to come along?”
“No, I think I’ll just take the bus home and call it a night,” Claire said after thinking about it for a moment. “I’m a bit tired.”
“Are you sure?” Patricia asked.
“Yeah,” Claire assured her.
“All right, suit yourself,” Patricia smiled, thinking it would’ve been nice if Claire had come along, but also knowing when not to push.
Claire walked out of the school with Patricia and watched as she and a few other classmates climbed into the borrowed car. She wondered for a few moments if maybe she should change her mind and go with them; after all, what was she going home to? Then she decided to go with her original decision and merely waved goodnight to them all as Patricia drove the car past her. Once they were out of sight, Claire headed off in the other direction towards the bus stop.
As luck would have it, Claire just missed the bus and according to the schedule on the kiosk, it would be a half hour before the next one. Still, it was a relatively pleasant night, and there was plenty of light from the overhead lamp to read by. So she just took her book from her bag and made herself comfortable on the bench. Quickly involved in her book, the first ten minutes passed quickly.
Concentrating on her book, Claire didn’t hear, at least not at first, the young man who had walked up to the edge of the bus stop kiosk. Especially since he had called her by a name she hadn’t gone by in the last few years.
“Mrs. Ryan?” he repeated once he had moved to only a few feet away.
Claire finally looked up to see, dressed in jeans, sneakers, a t-shirt and a windbreaker, a much more fully dressed Clark Stuart standing before her.
“Excuse me, but you are Mrs. Ryan, aren’t you,” he asked again, a slight hesitation in his voice as he wondered if perhaps he’d made a mistake. “Mrs. Claire Ryan from the Pine Ridge School?”
Embarrassed at the thought that he might have caught her staring at him during the class, Claire considered the idea of saying he had indeed been mistaken. Then she realized that would be the coward’s way out and unfair to a young man who obviously had gone out of his way to say hello.
“Not for a number of years,” she smiled and said instead, recalling that it was only after she had begun seeing David, or more precisely started sleeping with him, that she had gone back to her maiden name. Once people at the school became aware of their relationship, the last thing she wanted anyone thinking was that she was still a married woman, fooling around on an absent husband. “I mean I haven’t been Mrs. Ryan for a number of years,” she clarified. “I’m still at the Pine Ridge School. It’s Miss Roselli now I’m no longer married.”
“Clark Stuart,” the young man said, relieved that he hadn’t been wrong after all. “I don’t think you’d remember me, but I was in your art appreciation class a few years back.”
“Of course I remember you, Clark,” Claire said, wondering as she did so if he’d noticed her in class or just happened to recognize her as he walked past and saw her sitting there. “It’s nice to see you again,” she added, thinking afterwards how odd that might’ve sounded if his recognition had been from the latter.
The answer to her unspoken question came a moment later when Clark said he’d noticed her in the class, but since it was impossible to get a good look at her he hadn’t been sure. By the time he’d gotten dressed and come back into the classroom, she was already gone. It was only luck that he’d seen her sitting on the bench as he passed it on the way to his car in the parking lot beyond.
Reasoning that if he hadn’t gotten a good look at her in class, it was doubtful that he had any idea how much time she had spent staring at him, Claire decided to just take it from here and move forward. She said it was a small world and asked if he was taking classes here at the college.
“No, I’m over at State now,” Clark said, alluding to the senior school just a few miles away. “I graduated from here last year.”
“And you still come back here just to model?” Claire asked out of curiosity.
“Not really, I mean I used to do it when I was a student, it beat all hell out of working over at the local Burger Barn. Mrs. Petrowski was good to me when I was here, and when she called and asked if I could do it for a few nights I really couldn’t say no.”
“That was very nice of you,” Claire said.
“It’s no big thing,” Clark insisted. “It’s just a couple of hours a week and I pick up a few extra dollars.”
Realizing that the bus would be along soon, Claire said that it was indeed nice to see him again but that she didn’t want to keep him from wherever he was on his way to when he spotted her on the bench.
“I really had no plans other than to grab a cup of coffee at the diner down the road,” Clark replied. “My roommate sort of has our dorm room reserved for the evening.”
Claire smiled, remembering what that was all about from her own college years.
“You know, I just had a thought,” Clark said. “If you don’t have any plans at the moment, why don’t you join me for that cup of coffee? I’d be more than happy to drive you home afterwards.”
The offer took Claire by surprise, so much so that she didn’t say no right away, as she normally would have. As a general rule of thumb, teachers didn’t socialize with students. Still, there was no reason why that should apply to former ones. It might be interesting, she considered, to hear how one of her former charges was making out. What happens to students after they moved on was a question teachers often asked but rarely got an answer to.
“You might not believe it,” Claire smiled, “but that’s the best offer I’ve gotten all week.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Clark smiled back, “but I’m glad you said yes.”
It was a short walk to Clark’s car, and an even shorter ride to the diner. Once there, however, they discovered that the establishment was closed for reasons not stated on the sign on the front door.
“Well, that’s just great,” Clark said as saw the sign, a measure of disappointment in his tone.
“I guess there’s nothing we can do about it,” Claire said, remembering that there was not another place to get coffee at this time of the night anywhere in the area. “Why don’t you just give me a ride back to the bus stop?”
“You have to have missed the bus you were waiting for by now,” Clark replied, “and I’m not going to just leave you to wait for the next one. I said I’d give you a lift home and I will.”
Claire hadn’t wanted to admit it, but she hadn’t been looking forward to going back to the bus stop and waiting another half hour or more. So she was relieved to hear that his offer of a ride home still stood.
Since the diner had only been five minutes in the other direction, it took just that much longer for Claire to get home than it did to get to the college in the first place. Clark pulled up right in front of the door and was lucky enough to find a parking spot that someone must’ve just pulled out of.
“Thank you once again for the ride,” Claire said as she picked up her purse from the floor below her seat.
“Think nothing of it,” Clark smiled. “I’m just sorry that we didn’t have a chance to get that cup of coffee and talk.”
Claire was about to say that, yes, it was indeed a shame, but somehow it came out that if he’d like to come up, she’d be happy to make them both a cup of coffee.
“Are you sure?” Clark asked, genuinely surprised at the offer. “I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble.”
“No trouble at all,” Claire replied, the smile on her face not reflecting the fact that she was more surprised that she had made the offer than Clark was to have received it.
“Make yourself comfortable while I put the coffee on,” Claire said once they were inside the apartment, as she took his jacket, hanging it and her own coat on the rack. Heading for the kitchenette, she pointed out the couch in the living area where he could take a seat. “Regular okay for you?” she asked as she remembered that she had already set up the coffee maker for the next morning, but would have to add a bit to it for her guest. “If not, I think I might still have some specialty blends up in the closet.”
“Regular would be just fine,” Clark replied as he sat himself down on the sofa, taking a quick look around the tiny apartment as he did. Small as it was, just three and a half rooms, it was nevertheless quite cozy. A lot more than his single room dorm.
“Coffee will be up in a few minutes,” Claire announced as she walked into the living area, carrying a small tray of cookies that she placed on the coffee table. “While we wait, I want you to tell me all about what you’ve been doing since you graduated from Pine Ridge.”
Saying at first that there really wasn’t all that much to tell, Clark then went into the story of how, after graduating from high school, he really had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. His father had suggested that he take some time to think about it, but also make use of the interlude to take some courses at the local community college. If nothing else, it would let him pick up most of the prerequisites that he would need for any course of study he finally decided on. Somewhere along the way, while attending the junior college, he became interested in sports medicine and that was what he was now studying at State.
His story ended just as the timer on the coffee maker went off and Claire excused herself to take care of it, declining Clark’s offer to help. When she sat back down with another tray bearing two steaming mugs, along with milk and sugar, Clark inquired as to what she’d been up to since he’d left the school.
After pouring a small amount of milk and sugar into her coffee - Clark had declined both - Claire let it cool a moment before bringing it to her lips and taking a careful sip. The pause gave her time to consider what she wanted to say. By the time the mug was back on the table, she’d already begun a rather bland account of the last few years, leaving out any mention of her relationship with David Byrnes. The exclusion was noticeable enough to cause Clark to ask if, since she wasn’t married anymore, there was anyone special in her life. Not the sort of question she had expected, but one that was understandable enough, given her omission.
“Let’s just say that there used to be, but he’s gone now too,” Claire said after a momentary hesitation. Then she turned the question around and asked the same of him, adding that a good looking young man like him must have half the girls at State chasing after him.
“Well, a few at least,” Clark laughed as he helped himself to one of the cookies, “but nothing I’d really consider serious.”
“That’s probably for the best,” Claire remarked as she took a cookie as well, “at least at this point in your life. As your former teacher I probably shouldn’t be saying it, but it’s good to sow a few wild oats when you’re young.”
“Oh I do when I can,” Clark said with a chuckle, “at least when I can find someone who really interests me.”
“Oh really?” Claire replied with the same sort of amusement. “And what sort of girl is it that interests you?”
“I wouldn’t say there was any particular sort,” Clark answered as he took another sip of coffee. “I’ve always thought that if you only looked for one particular type you lost out on so many interesting possibilities.”
Claire wondered what he considered an interesting possibility but thought it best not to ask.
The clock on the mantle chimed the hour, causing Clark to turn his head in that direction and note the time. Like most of his generation, he didn’t wear a watch, relying instead on his cell phone if he needed to know the time.
“It’s getting late,” he pointed out, “maybe I should get going.”
“Nonsense, it’s hardly late at all,” Claire insisted. “Besides, I don’t think it would be exactly fair to your roommate and the young lady he’s entertaining for you to show up back at the dorm too early.”
What Claire didn’t say was that she was remembering a time when her own college roommate had an invited guest and she came home at what she thought was a late enough hour, but instead found herself locked out of the dorm room. She had wound up sleeping on the couch in the common room. Yet, no sooner had that thought passed than she noticed a subtle smile on Clark’s face, one that made her wonder as to the cause.
“Did I say something funny?” she asked.
“No, I was just thinking of something,” Clark replied.
“Care to share so that I can enjoy the joke too?”
“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter if I do because it’s not exactly a secret,” Clark said after thinking about it a moment. “It’s not a girl that my roommate is entertaining.”
“Oh?” Claire responding in a tone that stated she didn’t understand. “Oh!” she repeated a moment later in a much more knowing tone as understanding hit her.
She duplicated Clark’s smile with the thought that things certainly had changed since she was in college.
“Isn’t that a bit awkward?” she asked, saying the first thing that came to mind. “I mean the two of you having such opposite interests, as it were.”
“What you really mean is, don’t I find it awkward rooming with a guy who’s gay,” Clark said, “and don’t I worry that people will figure that I’m into guys too?”
Claire didn’t want to admit it, but as soon as the words had come out of her mouth she knew that was exactly what she had been thinking. She apologized and said that she had no business asking anything like that.
“It’s okay, people are always thinking that, even if they don’t come out and ask, but if they do, I don’t mind,” Clark replied. “First of all, Bobby, that’s his name by the way, and I had been sharing a room for almost a year before he decided to come out of the closet. He told me of his decision a month before he did it, in case I wanted to get out ahead of the storm and request alternate accommodation. I did think about it, but decided in the end that the two of us had been getting along great and in my mind his revelation wasn’t going to change that. If someone has a problem with it, well, it’s on them, not me.”
“You’re a good man, Clark Stuart,” Claire said, her opinion of him rising a few notches.
Without any decision actually having been made that he would stay longer, Claire excused herself and picked up both empty mugs, carrying them back to the countertop. As she refilled them with what was left in the carafe, she found herself thinking that it was a pity that Clark wasn’t a few years older and herself a few younger.
“I have to give you a lot of credit, Clark,” Claire said as she sat back down with the refilled mugs. “Not for what you just told me, although I am impressed by that, but also by how you can just get up in front of so many people like you did tonight. I was never that self-confident, not even back in college. Especially wearing not much of anything.”
“It’s nothing more than what anyone would wear to the beach,” Clark pointed out as he took a sip from the new cup.
“I think we have a very different opinion of what’s proper beach wear,” Claire smiled. “I’d look pretty ridiculous in some of the swim suits I’ve seem young ladies wear nowadays.”
“Well, I think you’d look great no matter what you wore,” Clark retorted with an equally wide smile.
“Flattering an old lady like that could be dangerous,” Claire laughed, wondering as she did if she felt the need to again point out the difference in their ages was for him or for herself.
“Well, if I see one anytime soon I’ll be sure to remember that,” Clark grinned.
“Keep talking like that and I’ll begin to think you’re trying to flirt with me,” Claire said in the same whimsical tone.
“Would it be such a bad thing if I was?” Clark said without pause, in a voice just a bit more serious than he’s been using.
If Claire noticed the difference, she let it pass without comment.