After everything that had passed during lunch on Sunday, I was a little concerned and, in the end, rather relieved when Monday passed without incident.
Aside from the benefit this was to my nerves, it also provided me with the opportunity to reflect upon the situation I had allowed myself to become embroiled in. Indeed, I mused and niggled and prevaricated over the issue for most of the day until, finally, there was no alternative but to sit down and address the position I had become embroiled in. So it was that, with my pipe freshly packed and a glass of JW Green close to hand, I sat down in my favourite chair in my living/smoking room and began an inventory of my sins of commission, my sins of omission, and the possible consequences of my actions or lack thereof.
Before I sat down to seriously consider my position, I had conventionally and perhaps somewhat lazily presumed that the most important consideration would be the issue of security, i.e., the degree to which Trudi's exhibitionism would remain circumscribed within some form boundary, remaining private to us and not subject to discovery by a third, and likely enraged, party.
However, even as this thought formed in my mind, I found myself wondering something far more fundamental, namely, what was driving Trudi to comport herself so? Surely if I were able to divine the factor motivating Trudi's actions, then I might be better able either to reassure myself that her actions would not constitute any kind of danger to myself, or otherwise find a way to withdraw my complicity.
As an English professor (retired) I was altogether acutely aware that I had little knowledge of those aspects of psychology of whatever formation which were required in this situation. Moreover, I was also keenly aware that I could not ask any of my former colleagues 'on the quiet' for their opinions, as this would only provoke their interest in my interest, thus an introduction to members of Her Majesty's constabulary and thence a roommate by the name of 'Big Jim'.
Alternately, I could seek guidance on this matter from the various repositories of knowledge which the internet lays claim to hold, both the more and the less authoritative. However, not knowing what I was looking for other than the unlikely combination of 'exhibitionism' and 'teenage female adolescent sexual development', not only might I activate some 'cyber-nannie' but I might also take a series of 'wild goose chases' as I followed what I considered as promising lines of inquiry, but which might ultimately lead nowhere.
Moreover, and though I knew it to be hubris on my part, I came from a generation who believed that it was possible to reflect on a problem, any problem, and come to some kind of ultimate conclusion that was not too far removed from the truth.
Thus I set to considering the first principles of my kerdankenexperiment.
What was the source of Trudi's ideas about people, about relationships, and about the exploding sexuality of puberty and adolescence?
Obviously, and especially given the closeness I had witnessed just yesterday when we had foregathered for lunch, it would be entirely natural and predictable that Trudi would turn to Sandra for the standard parental advice that is supposedly given to all sons and daughters.
But what was the character of that advice?
Was Sandra the kind of parent who finds such things a source of acute embarrassment and as a result of which neglects their child by failing to tell them the necessary 'facts of life'?
I dismissed that notion.
Sandra, after all, was already in the habit of leaving Trudi to take care of herself, having explained to her daughter that she would be 'spending time' with the euphemistic 'Ingliston Man'. Whilst Sandra might not, and probably had not, gone into the more intimate details concerning those occasions, that she had said as much as she had to Trudi was sufficient for me to reasonably believe Sandra was a reliable and ready source of at least the more rudimentary details of relationships and sexuality.
But was this advice anything more than perfunctory?
There had, I reflected, been no joking or teasing on such matters at yesterday's lunch, so I carefully reminded myself to consider such a theory as likely, but not proven. However, I also reminded myself that when Trudi had expressed surprise that I was not 'dating', her mother had swiftly curtailed her. Was this suggestive of embarrassment about such topics, or merely her belief that such topics were not 'suitable' for teenagers to be discussing with their elders?
I had no way of knowing, so I made a mental note to remember both possibilities until something more definite was shown in favour of one or the other.
Beyond Sandra, I conjectured that there would be aunts, cousins, grandmothers, and the suchlike to augment this imagined source of female/feminine advice, though both their existence and their input too was somewhat speculative, especially given what Sandra had said about the absent father and the absence of the groom's family from their lives. Sandra's having made these familial revelations without challenge or discomfort on the part of Trudi suggested that these claims should, at the very least, be taken at face value, at least until such time as evidence arose to the contrary.
With my assay as to the possible or likely feminine and female sources of Trudi's gendered consciousness, I next turned in my mind to considering what my former colleagues in gender studies might have termed the 'patrilineal' aspect of Trudi's family, and with it also the rather distant presence of 'Ingliston Man'.
Indeed, with both the father and his family effectively cut out of her life, this necessarily meant that Trudi's only familial recourse to the masculine was via her mother's family. This, though, was also a closed book to me, at least as yet, in that their constitution and presence had not been mentioned, the absence of which led me to presume that though Trudi may be possessed of the normal scattering of cousins, aunts, uncles, etcetera, I could not make any reliable determination thereupon. Again their lack of mention may mean nothing, or it may mean everything and so, again, I made a mental note to make allowance for both possibilities until evidence emerged.
This, then, left the nebulous 'Ingliston Man' about whom I could deduce little other than that, (a) Sandra was sufficiently taken with him to 'overnight' with him from time to time, (b) that Sandra was not ashamed of him, © that Trudi held some dislike or at least a strong lack of affection for him, (d) that Sandra was aware of this and respected her daughter's feelings on the matter. However, I did consider it reasonable to also deduce that, from her dislike or disinterest in him, Trudi would not be turning or deferring to him for 'manly' advice.
Whom did this leave as possible sources for masculine influence and experience in Trudi's life?
The first was her fellow classmates, and her teachers. Trudi had, however, made little mention of them, at least nothing of any substance beyond the generic moan of teenaged girls that teenaged boys were 'smelly and dumb' such as to lead me to suppose her to be as disinterested in boys of her age as many young women of her age are wont to be. I could be wrong and it may simply be that Sandra did not allow her to date, but given her 'development' in other areas, I felt I was somewhat secure in the belief that if she were so interested, then she would do something about it, and that something would leave its mark on her character. After all, Sandra was not there to supervise or control what occurred during those hours when Trudi was at school, wherein there was a surfeit of opportunity for 'interaction' should Trudi choose to avail herself thereof.
Again, then, no.
Lastly, there was the possibility that she might have some affection for, interest in, or respect for one or more of her teachers. Again, however, given the amount of time we had spent together and Trudi's lack of mention of any of her teachers by name, this suggested that they too had little, if any, impact or impression upon her.
Rather to my own surprise, as I realised this I also felt an unanticipated and so unexpected sense of relief that, in all likelihood, Trudi was therefore also free of any kind of adolescent crush upon any of her teachers. If she did so suffer, she would not have been able to avoid their mention, even by accident. There had been no such mention, so as I reassured myself that there was likely no such teacher who had captured her eye, I felt a somewhat curious pride that it was I whom had so captured her interest.
And this, of course, left myself as a masculine influence and presence in her life, but what was I to Trudi?
Was I, consciously or, more likely in my opinion, some unconsciously selected 'testing ground' whereof Trudi could try out various aspects of behaviour with what she must consider to be a 'safe' male, those behaviours either to modify or to employ when relating to other males?
Clearly this was possible, but this did not greatly address the sexual element; indeed, the sexual need that Trudi demonstrated in her behaviour towards and with me.
Moreover, there was no guile to Trudi, and consequently I found it hard to consider as realistic the possibility that her interactions with me were anything other than genuine.
But was this genuineness sufficient to provide me with the reassurances I needed concerning my own safety?
Perhaps contrary to all sense, I felt that it did in that, in my estimation and by my own evaluation, it did.
But how far did this security extend? Clearly it would be sufficient to cover Trudi's activities thus far, but what if she had not yet reached the outer limits of her activities? Indeed, what if she wished to progress further, and what might 'further' mean in this context?
Here, I considered, there were two options.
Firstly, 'further' might simply mean more frequent exhibitionism, or an extension of the places where Trudi might 'exhibit' herself, perhaps in a quiet corner of a coffee shop. This, of course, presumed that 'further' had meaning only in terms of myself, and I had to be careful not to preclude the possibility that 'further' might extend to include occasions when I was not present, or when others were present instead. Extension of the places and the extents of her exhibitionism whilst I were present would, of course, provide Trudi with that which she seemed to enjoy greatly, namely opportunities for teasing and embarrassing me.
Again, in this, I felt I was 'safe' in that, again, I could not conceive of Trudi conducting herself so in a situation that would place 'us' or me at risk. Clearly an aspect of the thrill for her was the riskiness of being caught or noticed, but that was for her, not me; her kink, not mine.
There was, however, another possible meaning for 'further' and this was the possibility that Trudi would progress to requesting or allowing me to indulge in more overtly sexual activities, perhaps even extending to requesting or allowing me to engage in sexual acts with her.
Here I felt distinctly less 'safety', and not strictly on the basis of the risks to my continuing freedom that such conduct could produce, but also from the fact of my own sexual history being unembarrasingly pedestrian in most respects, especially in the matter of psycho-sexual deviations from the standard patterns. Admittedly I was as liable to, and guilty of, those fleeting thoughts which pass through the minds of all teachers and professors when presented with the sight of an especially attractive student of theirs. Indeed, I had seen first-hand how this phenomena was not restricted to the heterosexual teachers, and many a university lecturer had I witnessed in the throes of unrequitable love for some student of theirs, or in receipt of same. On one memorable occasion, they had waited until the student had graduated, whereupon they relocated to another university where there was less of an issue concerning their being a couple. I still received cards from them, at Christmas, at Easter, and at other times they felt suitable for commemoration. Consequently I was at a loss to intuitionally understand or be able to in any especial way empathise with Trudi's motivations or her gratification in her ostentatious behaviour.
This, I felt, was the key to my insecurity in that, in the final analysis, it made no sense to me and therefore I was unable to comfortably and confidently predict Trudi's behaviour, and therefore accommodate and moderate my own such as to give me that security which I sought.
Of course, this was further problematized by the issue of how much any adult might reasonably be able to say they understood or could predict the conduct of any teenager.
For the moment I leant back in my armchair and closed my eyes; I could sense that my thoughts were beginning to be circular in nature, and that I was resolving nothing.
What had I deduced?
Setting aside the various caveats I already decided upon, I realised that Trudi's life was almost entirely bereft of male influence, that she had fixated on me as some kind of safe male presence in her life, that at the same time her burgeoning sexuality found some measure of gratification from exposing herself in a safe and controlled manner to me, that there was no guile to her conduct, but that I could not understand or predict how Trudi's behaviour might stabilise or develop and that, moreover, as a teenager, nothing was certain, including that in her impetuousness and her desire for excitement, she might do something without thinking that would 'give the game away'.
What could I do?
Though my conscience and my better judgement suggested some form of withdrawal from my cooperation and complicity in Trudi's behaviour, my ego, my vanity, and, yes, my libido, all encouraged me to continue.
Were I to do so, however, I needed to find some way of understanding Trudi better so that, somehow, I could finally attain the peace that meant I could enjoy Trudi for who she was and for all she was, and she was, forbidden flesh aside, a rather diverting and engaging young woman whose company I enjoyed regardless of the visions of that flesh.
Taking a swallow of the last of my JW Green, I retired to bed, remembering first of all to set my mobile to silent. Much as I enjoyed Trudi 'sexting' me on Friday evening, I found myself a little ... reluctant ... to receive such messages tonight, if there were any.
Besides, should she so send, I could always look at them in the morning.
It was a little after 11am on Tuesday morning that my mobile phone rang. Picking it up, I saw the caller identification declaring the call to be from Mrs. Maclean, not her daughter. True I had set nothing for Trudi that would have given her any trouble, but a call from her was, if not expectable, at least conceivable. But from her mother?
Curious, I answered.
"Ah, Simon, so glad to find you," Sandra hurriedly began, sounding oddly urgent about something and thus worrying me as to just what that might be. Surely she had none of those 'babysitter cameras' that had caught others out?
Swallowing the lump in my throat, I did my best to sound calm as I enquired, "Sandra, I take it you have recovered from your migraine?"
"Yes! Thank you for asking, Simon. Actually, well, that was part of what I wanted to call you for, to apologise for abandoning you like that."
"You had a migraine, Sandra. I would hardly consider that to constitute the pejorative of 'abandoning'. You did the sensible thing and withdrew, took your tablet, and seemingly successfully slept it off. Really, there's no need to mention it," I said, wondering why she was using this as her opening conversational gambit. What had been worrying her so?
"You're very kind, Simon," Sandra replied, following the conventions of British conversation. Hesitating a little, she continued. "I, er, I take it Trudi took good care of you? She didn't bore you or tire you with all that wonderful teenaged energy of her did she?"
"Not at all," I replied, thinking how she had taken really very good care of me in many more ways than I was sure Sandra would be pleased to hear of. Surely that couldn't be why she was calling? If so, I would have expected more anger, shouting, and profanity, not to mention constabulary involvement.
"Good. Right. Okay. Right. Okay, ah, Simon, please, I have something I want to say, but, ah, please, let me explain before you misunderstand me, okay?"
"I shall try," I said, wondering as I gave my permission what was so urgent as to prompt this call and what was so clearly complex or difficult for her that she could not be distracted by any intervention on my behalf. "I must admit, however, Sandra, that I truly don't understand quite what you mean. Is there some problem with Trudi, with her lessons?" I asked cautiously, not wishing to lose my student, but not wishing to give the least suspicion that we were anything other than the most conventional of tutor and student.
"No. Yes. Ah. I'm not making this clear, am I?"
"To be honest, Sandra, less and less so," I said, letting the laughter infect my voice. "Clearly you have girded your loins to speak to me about something, and clearly that something is somehow connected with myself, but I have to confess that what it might be or what the connection might be eludes me entirely. Forgive me if I sound a little like a professor for a moment but please, Sandra, as simply as you can, what is it you want to ask of me?"
"What are you doing for lunch, tomorrow?"
I blinked and replayed the question over in my head. Yes, I had heard what I thought I had heard.
More confused than ever, I rather cautiously admitted, "Honestly, nothing more than abhorréd domestic chores..."
"Right. Okay. Good. Oh, this didn't sound like this when I rehearsed it," Sandra said, her observation seemingly for her own benefit, as it told me less and worried me more than if she had kept her preparations unknown to me.
We were getting nowhere like this, and so I decided that more decisive action was called for, if only to settle my own concerns that whatever it was that had prompted Sandra to call me, that it could not be sufficiently serious enough to concern H.M. Constabulary and in any way make real my nightmares of spending a substantial number of years in one of H.M.'s buildings of Victorian brick; namely, gaol.
"Sandra, may I ask, does this impact upon Trudi's lessons, upon my position as her tutor?"
"Er ... yes and no. I, I can't explain without explaining everything, and it's not fair to do that on the phone."
"I see," I said, and in a way I think I did. "Hence the question over my plans for lunch, I presume. You've obviously given this matter some considerable degree of thought already so, in the interests of simplicity, might I enquire if you already have somewhere in mind we could meet for lunch? Somewhere convenient for your work?"
"Convenient for work ... oh Simon, you are thoughtful! Thank you!" Sandra gushed, reigning herself in a little and naming a restaurant of middling respectability, further down from the Royal Mile, and likely to be free of both tourists, coming down from the Royal Mile, and politicians, coming up from Holyrood.
"Would 12:30pm be convenient for you, Sandra?" I asked.
"Twelve-thirty? Twelve-thirty would be perfect-"
"-giving you time to get back to work quite early," I interrupted, my heart once more beating at a calm and acceptable 200 beats per minute.
"And might I ask, Sandra, does this have anything to do with Trudi being back at school on Wednesday, so that she need not know of our meeting?"
"Yes ... yes it does," Sandra confessed, sounding as though she regretted what she felt to be the necessity of her subterfuge, and thereby puzzling me all the more.
"Very well. Tomorrow at twelve-thirty. Do I need to bring anything along, other than myself?"
I could almost see the shake of her head. "No, Simon, that's very kind, but nothing. Just you and me, a quiet meal, and a chance to talk about Trudi. Don't worry, it's nothing to worry about, just something I need to talk to you about, now that you and her are getting along so well. I can see how happy and relaxed she is around you, and that's so nice for a mother to see, especially with a private tutor. I've known other mothers who've done the same, and had much more problems that you're, we're, having. All that I pay you so you should make her results better. I even knew a mother who thought paying £12,000 per year for her daughter to go to a private school with a very good record actually meant that he daughter should get nothing but A* grades in everything and then when her daughters got Cs and Bs and a couple of Ds, she suddenly started talking about how her daughter being happy was more important. And ... oh ... sorry ... didn't meant to get into that like that, and that's not what this's about. Sorry, not very clear again, am I? Look, if you're going to be her tutor for the rest of this year, and maybe next, then there's a couple of things I need to talk to you about, about her, but it's nothing to worry about, not really, okay?"
I suppressed my smile. Poor Sandra was clearly severely exercised about something, but this was one of those cases where the more she talked, the less sense she was making. Deciding to make gentle light of the situation, I noted, "Something to be concerned about, but not worried about, that affects my being her tutor, but not really. Okay, got it. In case of which, I shall see you tomorrow at 12:30 for lunch and exegesis. Goodbye, Sandra."
Sandra laughed softly at my words, demonstrating where her daughter had inherited her own laugh from. "Thanks, Simon. Bye," she said as she ended the call.
I closed my phone, standing and looking at it.
Something about Trudi, nothing bad, but something important, the kind of something that manners dictate should be discussed in person and not impersonally over the phone.
I had no idea, but there was no sense of anger or danger, so at least it was nothing for which a cell with 'Big Jim' would be the conclusion thereof.
I shook my head in amused bafflement.
Whatever tomorrow's lunch might bring, and hopefully it would bring a little clarity into my life, there was no doubt that Trudi's arrival into my life had certainly manifested a veritable maelstrom of complexity just when I had imagined retirement to be gifting me with a future of peaceful contemplation of the classics of English literature.
As I was putting away my phone I paused for a moment, reflecting that I was not sure that I found this development to be a bad thing after all.
Having purchased myself various tobaccos as well as my new pipe only on Saturday, I had no reason to avail myself of the opportunity to visit Leith's 'premier pipe shop' on my visit to Edinburgh and so, having arrived comfortably but not guiltily early on the train to Waverley, I indulged in a leisurely browse through some of Edinburgh's less 'touristy' shops before arriving at the appointed restaurant at the appointed hour, in the expectation of the appointed luncheon and the appointed explanation.
My appointment was expected, and when I gave my name to the attenuated maître d'hotel I discovered that Sandra had called ahead and asked for a quiet table towards the rear of the serving area, away from the routes to the kitchens and the toilets.
Smiling indulgently, and no doubt imagining some furtive assignation to be on the menu, he showed me to a suitable table, where I sat and ordered a JW Black as I waited for my companion's arrival.
Sure enough, looking as flustered as I had anticipated she might on a 'quick lunch from work', the maître d'hotel returned some ten minutes later, ushering Sandra into her chair, and offering us both the normal and the 'lunch' menus. We quickly scanned these both as he fetched Sandra her wine, red rather than the cliché white. Upon his return with her wine, we gave him our orders and left him to his arrangements thereof.
"Sandra, may I say how suitably professional you look," I said, raising my glass in theatrical salute at her dark grey trouser suit and white blouse ensemble, and also to my own pun.
"Thank you, and thank you for coming," Sandra said, dismissing or not really noticing the complement as she took a surprisingly restrained sip of her wine in return of my salute. She really was anxious about ... this.
"You're most welcome, of course, but really, after such a telephone call, I simply had to come, if only to learn what on Earth you were trying to tell me, or not to tell me," I said, doing what I could to make light of yesterday's enigmatic and confusing telephone call.
"Oh Simon, I'm, well, I'm sorry about that, and it wasn't fair of me, but I didn't know how to do it, and I didn't want to confuse things and mislead you, make you think I was trying to arrange lunch with you for me," Sandra explained, somewhat running out of steam as she tried to explain everything, at least insofar as her motivations for arranging lunch, in one sentence.
Trying to continue the levity I had sought to introduce earlier, I teased Sandra as I asked, with mock dejection of the finest delivery of amateur dramatics, "Oh ... and you're not ... because... ?" smiling to let her know I was not offended at the revelation that I was to not be the object of her affections.
"Oh, there's nothing wrong with you, Simon, nothing at all, it's just that, well, let's just say there's someone, kind of, and-"
"Sandra?" I intruded, sensing another of her extended sentences of diminishing coherence about to commence.
"It's not my business if it's not me."
Sandra took a moment, nodded, and took another sip of her wine. She was about to speak when the waiter arrived with our starters, and so she waited until he had departed before continuing. "Thank you, Simon. That's, well, that's very understanding of you."
"Not at all, and thank you for inviting me here," I said, dismissing the subject and changing the topic with a deftness that impressed even myself. "I've not been here before, and it's rather grand in an understated way," I observed, complementing her en passant by praising her choice of eatery, and seeking to continue to put her at her ease.
"Thank you," Sandra said, her head cocked slightly to one side as she took a moment to recognise, then appreciate, the complement I had given her.
"So, the mysterious phone call peppered with chthonic references to something occult about Trudi that you needed to discuss, to reveal, or explain. Sandra, what is this all about?" I asked, trying to sound both casual but also insistent that the explanation be forthcoming. I also made a determined effort not to allow my paranoia to drive my eyes to scan the room for plain-clothed detectives come to escort me into the affectionate clutches of the aforementioned 'Big Jim' or some other cliché.
Sandra nodded her head as though she were agreeing to something, and upon finishing the last of her starter, a rather parsimoniously portioned soup, she began. "Okay, Simon, this will take me a little time, and please, let me say it all, I need to keep it straight, what I want to say, okay?"
I nodded, more puzzled than ever, but also somewhat mollified that 'Big Jim' would be looking for another cell-mate, at least for now.
"Okay, so, I told you, Trudi's father, her biological father, fled as soon as, well, he fled?"
Again, I nodded, encouragingly thoughtfully.
"And I told you, him and his family, well, they ignored Trudi since then? That they still do?
"Simon, it's like this. Trudi is a young woman, growing into what I think is a quite beautiful young woman, I know, a mother's prejudice, but I don't think you'd disagree with me."
"No, not at all," I managed to squeeze out, my heart somehow suddenly blocking my throat once more.
Sandra continued, adding, "But I'm worried about her. She's, well, she's not really used to being around men too much, of any age really. Her father and his father aren't around, there are no cousins from his side of the family, and my family live up in Inverness, so they're not around too much too either."
Slowly I nodded, trying not to smile as Sandra continued. I had been at least partially right in my deductions about Trudi and the lacking presence of any kind of 'masculine energy' in her life, but I was still uncertain where Sandra was going with this. "Go on, please."
"Right, so, well, well she's not really around men much. There's a couple of boys at school who've asked her out, and she's old enough I would let her go, within reason, but she said 'no' to them both. When I asked her why, well, boys at fourteen are about as immature as they get, and Trudi's nothing if not mature, so it's not really surprising that there's no attraction for her there. These ones were the best of the bunch, but I wasn't sorry she said no to them.
"Anyway, the thing is, Simon, I just want you to be aware, well, God this is difficult!"
"Then take it slowly, and try again. If what you wish to discuss is so problematic for you to approach chronologically, as it were, try approaching the topic conceptually instead. Tell me, Sandra, what is it you want from me, want me to do, or not to do?"
Sandra took an obvious breath, and held it a moment before finally explaining the crux of the issue for her. Incredibly, a blush spread up her throat and across her cheeks before she spoke. "Simon, I'm worried that, well, Trudi's growing up, she's becoming a young woman, but, ah, she might not, ah, behave properly, if you know what I mean?" Sandra said, ending with a question, clearly hoping that I did understand what she meant.
The question was did I, did I really understand what was the issue? What Sandra had described was Trudi's possibly socially awkward behaviour, but was that what Sandra felt was the real problem?
Was it Trudi, or was it my possible reaction to such behaviour?
With as much manners and lack of conceit as I could muster, I held up my hand to indicate that I wanted time to think over Sandra's words, time that would be without her input, however well-intentioned it might be. Consequently I took the opportunity to summon the waiter, to clear our now consumed starters and to bring our mains.
As he did so, I wondered whether this might be the chance for me to recover some of the ground I should never have surrendered in the first place in my relationship with Trudi, no matter how enticing the inducement. Should I tell Sandra of Trudi's 'lighter' escapades, in the hopes that with this she would be able to do what I, for complex reasons, was not able to do, namely to restrain Trudi somehow before her behaviour took my beyond the point of no return. Incongruously, I wondered about event horizons, and how like they my situations was.
Exactly how strong a presence, a force, in my life was Trudi?
I was about to discover the answer, much to the consternation of my better judgement, but much to the celebration of my hubristic libido.
Or perhaps it was Thanatos.
By now, the waiter had returned with our mains, the Italian pastas which this restaurant was supposedly famed for and which, as it turned out, they were rightly to be praised for. I thanked him as he left, and turned my attention once more upon Sandra and, though she were not physically present, also upon Trudi.
"If I understand you correctly, Sandra, you are concerned that your daughter might behave somehow inappropriately, either around me, or even possibly towards me, am I correct?"
Sandra nodded furtively, her colour rising once more.
Thanatos triumphant, I continued. "Sandra, you must surely know that, as an English tutor with many years of experience of the behaviour of young women and young men, I have had more than one young woman, and even the occasional young man, pass through my classrooms and lecture theatres and who had a crush of some form or another upon me."
Again, Sandra nodded, though her expression betrayed a little relief.
"In which case, you can be assured that I am more than capable of detecting any inappropriateness in their conduct," I said, seeking to reassure Sandra of my probity. Of course, I left unsaid the fact that Trudi had exhibited a delightful degree of inappropriateness which, with a little more care, I might be yet more free to enjoy, or at least free to enjoy without some of the concerns I had heretofore laboured under.
"Indeed, though I am lately retired, you were aware that, like other teachers, university lecturers are also required to provide clear Full Disclosure," I said, referring to that scheme whereby it is intended that no-one who is unsuitable for the task should come into any position of authority over children, the definition of children stretching, for such purposes, up to 18.
"I, I hadn't quite realised," Sandra admitted.
"That doesn't matter. What matters, rather, is that I have a Full Disclosure, a copy of which you can see upon request, which is valid for a year or more, and which should assure you that I am aware of the potential for ... misbehaviour on the part of any students I may take. Moreover, that certificate is very important to me in that, without it, I am unable to tutor anyone under 18, even privately," I patiently explained, trusting this to be the end of the issue.
However, it was not quite so, not yet.
Sandra took a sip of her wine, clearly taking a little courage from its warming influence. "Thank you, Simon, but may I ask, you said you were a university lecturer, but does that mean you have had much experience with schoolgirls of Trudi's age too?"
Inwardly I chuckled at Sandra's unintentionally and unknowingly humorous choice of expression, but of course, of this I could say nothing. "Some, though as you perceive, not as much experience as I have of university age students. I presume that you consider or are concerned that this might be some form of limitation?" I asked gently, not wishing her to misunderstand that I had taken some kind of offence at her implication. She was, for all the games and the nonsense, clearly a mother, concerned for the welfare of her only child, no matter that, in this case, welfare had less than usual connotations, all the more so if Sandra was aware, as I was now confident that she was not, of the extent of her daughter's behaviour.
Sandra nodded slowly, as though I had confirmed some issue for her, a gesture which, somewhat incongruously, the waiter mistook for his summons, whereupon we interrupted our conversation once more as our main course flatware was cleared, and our desserts delivered, a slightly meagre cheese platter for myself and an envy-inducing sorbet for Sandra.
Picking up the threads of her thoughts, Sandra continued once more, flushing, if anything, even deeper than she had done previously. "Simon, this is hard for me to ask, for any mother to ask, and it's even hard because we've known each other only a little time and, ah, this is, well, well it's something intimate about my little girl – I know, she's growing fast, but I'm her mother and she's still a little girl to me – and, well, ah, sometimes she's still that little girl, not so often now, but sometimes, when she's confused or trying something new, she still is.
"A little girl.
"I'm sorry, Simon. I'm not making much sense, am I?
"Okay. Here it is.
"Simon, will you please, please, let me know, say something, if Trudi ever, ah, oh fuck it! If she ever tries to flirt with you or, you know? Please? Please say you know what I mean?" Sandra said, winding down, clearly not comfortable to continue.
Smiling my most reassuring smile, genuinely meant, for all the nonsense that is was attendant to, I carefully reached forward and gently patted Sandra's hand. "From your ... discomfort, I take it you are concerned that Trudi might behave in a manner that is somehow inappropriately sexual, either in my presence or else possibly even towards me?" I asked, my question delicately phrased such that the amateur lawyer in my head felt I had neither admitted nor conceded anything with my question.
Sandra looked up at me like I had answered her prayers, as her daughter, in another altogether way, had answered mine, unknown though they had been. "Yes, Simon! Exactly! That's exactly it!"
I nodded, cautiously gathering information, asking, "Aside from the clichéd touching her hair, pouting, batting her eyelashes, etcetera, has Trudi exhibited any behaviour that has given you cause for concern?"
Sandra looked surreptitiously to her left and right before answering, a gesture that would have been humorous in another context, but in this spoke volumes as to her degree of anxiety and caution. In a whisper, she warned me, "There, ah, there have been a couple of times recently when, well, when she said she had 'forgot' to wear her bra under her tee-shirt. Things like that. You know."
Indeed I did, though I of course chose not to admit as much. "Sandra, I can assure you there have been no issues concerning her dress when she has been in my company. I must confess that teaching her in the garden as she wore a bikini was unusual, but clearly not something to be concerned about, no least in that you were present on that occasion."
"I know, Simon, but, well, I do worry..."
I smiled consolingly. "Of course you do, Sandra; you're her mother, after all. I understand that's part of the job description. May I enquire, aside from the 'forgotten' brassiere, have there been other incidents?"
Sandra shook her head. "Not really, but, can I ask, that first lesson, the brown bikini? Didn't that make you feel uncomfortable?"
"Truthfully, yes it did, but it was our first lesson, you were present, as I said, so it was hardly an 'illicit bikini' incident, the bikini was rather conservative in its design – at least to me – but most of all I wanted Trudi to feel comfortable for her first lesson. My position is not like that of her teachers; we see each other just once a week, yet have to develop sufficient rapport not only to be able to work together, but for her to trust my advice when it may come into conflict with that her teachers have given her. It has been suggested that the rôle of the private tutor comes with a degree of intimacy that a school teacher is unable to attain, not least in terms of teacher-pupil ratio. Consequently, if Trudi were comfortable, and you were comfortable, then it was for me to deal with it in as professional a manner as possible which, I trust, I did."