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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 bursa escort 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 bursa escort bayan 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 escort bursa 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.
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