The Essay, by Fletcher DeLancey

 

 

This story was the result of a writing challenge, which gave me the chance to stretch out and try something completely different. Writing about a place I know well is a whole different ball of wax from inventing new worlds...

© 2005 Fletcher DeLancey

 

 

 


 

 

Jayne Williams put the last of the papers face down on the stack and heaved a sigh of relief. God, she hated Writing 121.  As a newly minted assistant professor at the University of Oregon, she was at the bottom of the totem pole—and two of her colleagues had gleefully shoveled their teaching responsibilities for Writing 121 on to her. This was a class that every incoming freshman was required to take, regardless of degree path, which meant it was full of students who didn’t like writing, had no desire to write, and were only there because they had no choice. It didn’t make for a very rewarding teaching experience. Sure, there were a few shining stars in that auditorium—students with a talent and a will to learn—but sometimes she  thought she should just record her lecture and project it on the screen in the front of the room. Those students who showed up in her class with a cup of coffee and the campus newspaper would never know the difference.

Fortunately for her sanity and professional fulfillment, she also had the Creative Writing 451, 452, and 453 series.

Creative writing was her area of expertise, which was why she’d landed this position. The University had lost a creative writing professor to an east coast school the previous year and desperately needed a replacement. So even though she was new and got the shit classes, she was also guaranteed this one, the class that she looked forward to every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The class that made her certain that someday, she was going to pull a bestselling novel off a bookshelf and say proudly, “I taught her.”

Because there was a student in this class who was truly gifted. Not that the others weren’t, of course. For the most part—with one or two painfully glaring exceptions—her creative writing students were an extraordinarily talented and dedicated lot. They’d committed to this class in full knowledge—and usually eager expectation—that it would challenge them, force them to reexamine their assumptions regarding their own skills, and make them into better writers. They were her pride and joy, and she loved them all.

But Sarah was different. Sarah Northridge was what the University called an NTS, or Non-traditional Student. That was the official acronym for any student older than twenty-five, who had not gone straight—or nearly straight—from high school to college.

In the autobiographical essay that Jayne assigned at the beginning of the school year, Sarah had written about getting married straight out of high school and embarking on the life she’d thought she wanted:  a husband, a home of her own, children, pets, a white picket fence. She admitted that she might have waited a few years to get married if she’d had more of a choice about it, but her pregnancy made things a bit more urgent. While reading Sarah’s essay, Jayne had smiled when she’d come across a four-word summation of that marriage:  “Big mistake. Wonderful son.” She’d immediately pulled her green pen out of her mouth (she never used red) and written in the margin, Not many writers could distill ten years into four words and still explain it perfectly. Very nicely done!

Sarah’s marriage was long over and her son was in high school now, freeing her to go back to school and finish the degree she’d given up so long ago. Her life experience lent a depth to her writing that most of the other students simply could not match, though they might in time. And Jayne enjoyed her writing so much that she’d developed a habit of putting Sarah’s paper at the bottom of the pile, saving it until last. She’d grade all the others, then get up, pour herself a glass of wine, and sit down for her reward.

Now she set herself to grading today’s assignment. This was a fun one—her first “pop essay,” as she called it. Normally her creative writing classes involved discussions of writing styles, readings of short texts followed by dissection of those texts, and of course readings and discussions of the long-term projects that each student was working on. But that style of teaching had its limitations. Some students did very well with advance planning and predictable requirements. But others shone at spontaneous creativity, so once she’d lulled the class into thinking they knew what to expect, she threw the pop essay at them. She’d walked in, announced that they were not going to cover the topic on today’s syllabus (which was a fake entry anyway), and were instead going to spend one hour, and one hour only, completing an essay on the following subject…

She’d waited, and the room filled with a breathless silence.

“Well, what is it?” asked Stephen. Jayne smiled; she’d have bet her lunch that he’d be the one to ask.

“Whatever you want,” she said. “I’m not assigning this one. I’m not giving you any guidelines whatsoever. You have one hour to write about anything you want to, in whatever style you want to, but your essay must be complete at the end of this hour or you’ll lose one grade. So be careful in your choice.”

A few of her students grinned happily and immediately opened their notebooks. The rest gaped at her.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” she asked them, holding her wrist in front of her and tapping her watch. “Time’s a’wastin’.  Get busy!”

She heard a few groans amid the rustle of pages being flipped and students shifting in their chairs. Some of the students looked up at the ceiling, others out the window as they decided what they would write. Soon enough, though, nearly every head in the class was bent over a notebook, and the sound of pencils and pens scratching over paper was music to Jayne’s ears. But one student was still staring at her. Sarah had plainly been stunned by the assignment.

Jayne took a step toward her, at the same moment that Sarah looked away and reached into her bag for her notebook. She opened it up and began writing, and for the next hour she didn’t look up even once. Nor did she meet Jayne’s eyes when she turned her paper in at the end of the class.

The students of Creative Writing 452 had done her proud, Jayne decided that evening as she went through the essays. This type of assignment generally forced a different style out of her students, and often that style wasn’t nearly as good as what they produced when they had more time. That was okay, they’d work on this through the rest of the year. But the creativity—oh, these pages were fairly dripping with it. God, she had some amazing minds in her class!

After the drudgery of grading the Writing 121 papers, these were sheer joy. She spent several happy hours immersed in the minds of her students, and when she came to the last paper she was almost sorry. Almost.

But this was Sarah’s essay. So she took a break to get a glass of wine, then settled down happily and began to read.

 

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“Whatever you want,” she says. Fuck. How am I supposed to decide? I want to write about so many things, but none of them can be covered in an hour. For some there’s simply too much to say. For others there’s too much that can’t be said.

But there’s something burning a hole in my brain, and it has been for a while now, and for reasons I can’t explain and don’t really want to examine, that’s what I’m going to write about.

I was sitting on a bench with one of my friends a few weeks ago, watching the world go by as we sipped our coffees and talked about school. He’s like me, a student in his thirties who finds himself a bit of an oddball among all these kids. Most of the students here aren’t much older than my son! So we naturally gravitated toward each other, and we have a good time calling ourselves the old farts.

Bill nodded his head toward a woman who looked to be in her early twenties and said, “Wow, check out the rack on her!”

He said it just to get a rise out of me; he knows I hate that word. But I couldn’t give him the reaction he was looking for, because I was staring at that woman’s chest, too. She did have a beautiful set of breasts. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Of course, it didn’t help that she was displaying them for all the world to see in a tight shirt with a diving V-neck. But…they were so perfect, and I could so easily envision myself touching them, lowering my mouth to them, sucking on those hard nipples…except that she was just a kid. Jesus.

I’ve had these kinds of thoughts for years, but over the last year or so they’ve really gotten out of control. I haven’t wanted to face it, but I don’t think I can avoid it any more.

I’m pretty sure I’m a lesbian. I can’t be totally sure, for the obvious reason that I’ve never had sex with a woman. Empirical proof, my son would call that. (He’s loving his science classes.) But do I need that proof? When I can look at a woman and think about how much I want to touch her? I don’t look at men that way. They’re friends, adopted brothers or sons, but not people I want to touch in a sexually loving manner. Not anymore.

There’s a woman in my Creative Writing class who just mesmerizes me. She’s so beautiful. And when I say that, I don’t mean in the classic sense, though I think she’s beautiful that way, too. But when she smiles, there’s a light in her eyes that makes her whole face glow. The curve of her jaw leaves me breathless. In our class discussions, she’s brilliant and thoughtful and funny, and I wish I could look across a dinner table into her face and have far more personal discussions with her. 

I wish other things. I watch her in class and wish we were somewhere else, just the two of us, in a room with a fireplace and a comfortable rug and a bottle of very good wine. I’d undress her slowly, so slowly, because she’s special and she deserves the most careful handling. When the last of her clothes came off I’d spend an eternity just caressing her, feeling her skin under my fingertips. It looks so soft, so smooth. What does it feel like on the curve of her waist, the column of her throat, the underside of her breasts? What would it feel like to cup one of her breasts in my hand, feeling its soft weight? 

Inevitably, that’s where I’d go. A woman’s breasts are so lovely, and I’m sure hers would be nothing short of perfect. To have her offer them up to me, to have the right to touch them—oh, God, what a gift. I’d caress them so softly, so tenderly…and I’d make her wait a long time before lowering my mouth to them. I’d want the first touch of my lips to make her sigh as her hand came to the back of my head, holding me to her. I’d suckle her very gently at first, then gradually increase the pressure. My own nipples love a soft touch, but they also love some rougher handling, and I’ll find out if hers are the same. If they are—oh, how I will enjoy that.

Eventually I’ll have to take a break from my delightful task, and bring my own body over hers so that I can feel her, skin to skin. I’ll look down at her face, so beautiful right now, flushed with arousal, and I won’t be able to help myself. I’ll kiss her, hard, letting her know how much passion she inspires in me. Our tongues will dance together, and I’ll hear a moan and wonder if it was her or me. And then, because I couldn’t stand not to any longer, I’ll move my lips to that incredibly sexy jaw and kiss it, all over, especially the underside. She’ll drop her head back, exposing her throat to my touch, and I’ll kiss every inch of it. What would it be like to feel her pulse beneath my lips?

She’s probably more experienced than I am. Well, practically anyone is. But when I envision us together, I don’t envision her taking charge. She knows how important this is to me, this first exploration. She understands that I’m half terrified, half eager, and half out of my mind with arousal. I know that’s three halves, but that’s how I feel—as if there is more emotion inside me than my body can contain.

I think I’ll have to go back to those glorious, perfect breasts again. They’re just too beautiful to leave alone for very long, and I don’t think I paid equal attention to them earlier. God knows these breasts deserve the best I can give them.

But as much as I love them, and as fantastic as they are, there are other parts of her body that I’ll need to explore. So I’ll leave her breasts with a parting kiss and a mental promise to return, and then I’ll map out the rest of her body with my mouth. I know she’s waiting for me to go to one place in particular, and I’ll get there, but this is my first time and I’m not going to rush. I want to know all of her. When I was married I sometimes felt as if my husband saw me as nothing but a pair of breasts and a vagina, and I will never, ever make her feel that way. So I will worship her, all of her, and before I’m done I’ll know where all of her sensitive places are. Those special places that never seem to make it into erotic literature, because there’s nothing inherently sexy about, say, the back of a knee. But if the skin on the back of her knee is sensitive, if it makes her gasp or moan when my tongue touches her there, then that place just became absolutely sexy.

And when I’ve found those magic spots, and her breath is coming hard because she’s so highly aroused, then I’ll make my way to the place she’s wanted me to go all along. Even here, though, I’ll make her wait. Again, because of my personal experience, I’m not going to just dive in. She deserves so much more than that. She deserves to feel my lips and tongue exploring every fold, every crevice, every secret place at the center of her being. What will it taste like? Will it taste like my own juices, or will she have a different flavor? God, I can hardly imagine what it will be like to actually have this right of exploration, to know that she is offering this most vulnerable part of herself to me. I think the emotional impact could be intense. And I think, when I first slide my finger inside her and feel that warmth, that incredible intimacy that she is giving me—I think I’ll have a hard time holding back my tears. Because it will be such a wonder.

I know that after the amount of time I’ve spent worshipping her body, my finger will enter her easily. But I don’t know her yet—I don’t know what she wants. So I’ll ask. 

“Do you want more?” 

I think she’ll nod, but I don’t want body language. I want to hear her voice. 

“Tell me.”

“Yes,” she’ll say, and the tone of her voice will send chills down my spine. God, that voice. I hear it in class three days a week, but to hear it this way—oh, Christ. Does she know the effect it has on me? Does she know that I’ve spent most of fall term and all of winter term so far just melting under her voice? Waiting for this class, because it’s my chance to hear her again? I knew I’d love Creative Writing. I just didn’t think this would be the reason why.

I’ll pull out my finger, add another, and slide both of them in. There’s a little more resistance, but I think she can take three. I’ll pump my fingers, glorying in the feel of her muscles softly wrapping around me, and eventually I’ll stop, kiss her hard, and look at her expectantly.

And by now she knows. 

“Yes,” she’ll murmur. “More.”

I’ll smile. God, I want to fill her up. I’ll pull out again, press three fingers at her entrance, and then I’ll kiss her deeply as I push them in. Oh, fuck, this is what I wanted. She’s gripping me, she’s so warm, and I’m actually inside her body, and it’s a goddamned miracle. I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold myself together. I want her so much, and she’s giving herself to me, and this moment is everything in the world. I’ll kiss her again and again, and I’ll tell her what this means to me, and I’ll thrust into her hard as I watch her body move beneath me. 

Can she have a vaginal orgasm? Does she need me to touch or lick or suck her clitoris to come? I’m going to find out. I’m good at learning; she knows that. I’ll let her teach me. And in all the years I’ve spent in pursuit of my education, this will be my greatest lesson. Because then I will finally learn who I am. And if I’m very, very lucky, she’ll let me share myself with her. 

Time’s almost up. Jesus Christ, I just came out in my Creative Writing class. Well, I guess that’s as good a place as any. I hope Professor Williams will be okay with this. She’s my favorite professor, and I don’t want this to change the way she behaves around me. I don’t think it will; she seems far too open-minded for that. 

I feel like a load has just been lifted off my chest. Finally my secret is out. Someone knows. 

But I don’t know where to go from here. I’ve been to the Gay Pride Center, and it’s not my style. Besides, everyone in there is a kid. Where does a 34-year-old woman go to learn about being a lesbian? Bars aren’t my style either, and I don’t play softball. Where do I go?

I guess, like everything else, I’ll figure it out eventually. And in the meantime, someone else knows. 

And that makes all the difference.

 

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Jayne put the essay down and stared out her living room window. Her mind was reeling.

She’d never read anything like it. God, Sarah’s heart and soul were right there on the paper. Students often said things in their writing that they wouldn’t or couldn’t say out loud, but this was in a whole different league. And who was the mystery woman in the class? There were nine women in there besides Sarah—she was dying to know which one it was. Given Sarah’s words about most students being “just kids,” she could rule out seven of them immediately. But the two others…both of them were brilliant and very engaging in the class discussions. Which one could it be?

Then her brain gave her a figurative kick in the ass, and she nearly dropped the essay in her haste to get back to the relevant passage. Yes, here it was: I’m good at learning; she knows that. I’ll let her teach me.

“Oh, Jesus,” she whispered. “It’s me.”

Her body, already highly aroused from reading Sarah’s words, now went into overdrive at the thought of being the woman in the essay. She closed her eyes and let her head rest against the back of the chair, but that just made things worse—the position reminded her of what Sarah had written about dropping her head back and exposing her throat. She imagined Sarah kissing her there, softly and then more demandingly…and she could almost feel Sarah’s mouth moving down to her breasts and suckling them in the manner she’d described.

“Fuck,” she said out loud as she opened her eyes. “I’ve just been seduced.” A short laugh escaped her. “Seduced by words; how perfect.”

But she could never act on this. Sarah was a student, and there were very clear rules on sexual fraternization between professors and students. True, these rules were designed mostly to protect young, innocent students from older professors who were in positions of power—and sometimes to protect gullible professors from not-so-innocent students who knew how to use their bodies to get what they wanted. Sarah was neither young nor innocent; she had a 16-year-old son and she was only two years younger than Jayne.

It didn’t matter. She was still a student. At least until she graduated in June, which was four months away.

Jayne couldn’t take Sarah up on her very obvious offer. But at least she could help. She wouldn’t let Sarah be alone any longer.

Picking up the essay, she uncapped her green pen and began to write at the bottom.

 

Sarah—your words leave me breathless with admiration. It takes so much strength to be this vulnerable…and believe me when I say that it will not change the way I behave around you, unless it’s because I respect you more now than ever.

Where do you go now? Well, there’s a group of women who meet once a week at the Electric Station, in the lounge. The chairs are comfy and there’s great jazz on Friday nights, and it’s not a meat market. It’s a place where you might meet women who understand.

 

She gave considerable thought to her next words, chewing on the end of her pen. Then she nodded and added a few more lines.

 

I’ll be there next Friday, and I’d be more than happy to introduce you around. There are some wonderful women in this group, and I think you’d fit in beautifully. You would be more than welcome if you chose to come. The other place that might be helpful is Mother Kali’s Bookstore. There are all sorts of events that take place there, and it’s another great place to meet people without any pressure at all.

I wish you the best of luck in this discovery process. It can be a time of such joy, especially when you find that you’re not alone. And Sarah—thank you for entrusting me with your secret. I’ll hold it safe.

P.S. Technically, this essay was fantastic. I know it was hard for you to adjust to the spontaneity of it, but you did very, very well. There’s a plot thread that moves the reader very smoothly from the beginning to the end, and I enjoyed the way you bracketed the whole story with your in-the-moment thoughts about the assignment. I also loved the tense shift at the top of page two (see note) where you moved from “I would” to “I will.” So elegant! I felt as if I were with you in your mind, watching you go from uncertainty to absolute confidence. From “I’m pretty sure I’m a lesbian” to “I just came out…”

Great effort, Sarah. This was an easy A.

 

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When she handed the papers back that Monday, Sarah wouldn’t meet her eyes. Jayne felt a bit hurt at first, but then she realized that Sarah had no idea how her essay had been received and was no doubt feeling very vulnerable. So she focused on leading the class, asking some of the students to read paragraphs from their essays and facilitating the discussions. At the end of the class, Sarah had obviously read her notes and was feeling far more comfortable, because she flashed Jayne a smile as she rose to leave.

“Thanks, Professor Williams,” she said. “I really appreciate that.”

“No, thank you,” said Jayne. “You knocked me out with that essay. It was a joy to read.”

Sarah ducked her head, gave her another quick smile, and left the classroom.

 

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The Friday night crowd at the Electric Station was rowdy as usual. Jayne loved these women; they were so damned funny and interesting, and it was just a riot to watch them get a little lubricated with alcohol and start releasing the stress of their work weeks. They were all professionals, some of them in more demanding—and less tolerant—workplaces than others. Jayne knew she was lucky; being a lesbian at the University hardly turned a head these days. She didn’t exactly make a point of coming out to everyone, but neither did she hide it. Not all of her friends were so fortunate.

The group was well into its third round when something caught Jayne’s attention. She glanced up to see Sarah standing across the room, looking around. Her body posture indicated uncertainty, and Jayne felt an instant sense of protectiveness. She rose and threaded her way through the tables and chairs, smiling when Sarah turned her head and saw her. Sarah’s face lit up in an answering smile, and Jayne was so entranced by it that she almost bumped into a chair. Dear God, this woman was beautiful.

She made it to Sarah without any mishap, despite the rubbery sensation in her legs.

“Hey!” she said, speaking loudly to be heard over the jazz trio. “I’m glad you made it!”

Sarah dropped her eyes, then looked up shyly. “I changed my mind about twelve times,” she said. “But then I decided that I couldn’t not come.”

“Well, you made the right decision!” Jayne extended her arm, indicating the rowdy group of women she called her friends. “Let me introduce you to some of the weirdest women in Eugene.”

Sarah smiled. “That sounds great.”

Jayne led the way back and performed the introductions. She’d already prepared her friends for this possibility, and they responded in such a welcoming manner that it was bare minutes before Sarah had been sucked into their group and was laughing with the rest. She sat across from Jayne, a drink in front of her and her posture far more relaxed than it had been when she entered. As Jayne had predicted, Sarah charmed the group with her humor and intelligence, and by the time they broke up for the evening, Jayne was reasonably certain that at least three of her friends had a crush. Sure enough, she had to field two phone calls the next day, full of breathless inquiries about Sarah. But she put her friends off, saying she would not get involved in Sarah’s personal life. “If you want to ask her out, for God’s sake ask her out,” she told them. “Don’t drag me into it.”

And they did. Over the next four months, Jayne watched Sarah’s foray into dating with a strange mixture of protective pride and total jealousy. She wanted so badly to be the one with an arm around Sarah’s shoulders, but it was out of the question. All she could do was watch as her friends vied with each other to earn Sarah’s smiles and small touches. And the first time she pulled into the parking lot in time to see Sarah kissing one of her friends, she felt like she’d been punched in the stomach.

“You’re not free to be with her,” she reminded herself as she opened her car door. “This isn’t about you.”

It didn’t help.

The worst part was that Sarah continued to call her Professor Williams. Jayne didn’t correct her, knowing that the distance was necessary. But she caught a whole ration of shit from her friends about it, and it was hard to go along with the jokes and the teasing when, in truth, she’d have given anything to hear Sarah call her by her first name. But she was Sarah’s professor, and that meant she couldn’t be her friend. Not like that. Nor did Sarah give any indication that she wished it could be otherwise, treating Jayne with an unfailing courtesy and gentle friendliness. After a few weeks of this, Jayne began to question her certainty that she’d been the woman in the essay. Surely Sarah couldn’t be so…so polite if she’d really had those thoughts about her.

As the winter and spring terms went by, Jayne found her attraction to Sarah growing by leaps and bounds. Maybe it was the forced distance, the appeal of the unattainable. Maybe it was because Sarah never looked at her in that way; never showed any of the passion she’d displayed in such a raw manner in her essay. But then again, maybe it was just because Sarah was such an amazing woman. Brilliant, kind, funny, strong—and yet so vulnerable. Her vulnerability continued to show up in her writing, and Jayne felt as if they had a whole separate relationship through those pages. She loved reading Sarah’s work, yet dreaded it at the same time—because she was certain that one day she’d read the musings of a woman who had finally embraced her sexuality in the most intimate manner. She knew for a fact that it would tear her apart. Somewhere in these last four months, she’d fallen in love with the woman who smiled at her and called her Professor Williams.

During spring term Finals Week, as the entire campus geared up for the graduation ceremony, Jayne put Sarah’s term project aside until she could avoid it no longer. It was a short novel about a woman caught in the political turmoil of Northern Ireland, so euphemistically termed “The Troubles.” The main character was autobiographical, exploring her sexuality against the backdrop of the religious intolerance and violence of the times, and Jayne was frankly terrified about what she might find in this final version of the story. But when she opened it and began to read, she found an extremely engaging story in which the main character danced around the edge of intimacy but never dove in. The story ended with a theme of ongoing discovery and hope for the future, and Jayne felt her own heart lifting as she read the final paragraphs.

She turned to the last page and stopped, staring at the handwritten note below the lines of print.

 

Professor Williams—since final grades are posted next Wednesday, I’m planning to celebrate my graduation Thursday, at the Electric Station. No music, no loud crowds, just a quiet drink at nine o’clock. I’d love it if you could join me.

 

That was it. No personal note, no other indication of what Sarah was thinking. But Jayne felt her heart pounding in her chest. What did this mean? Was she being invited as a friend, or something else? These last few months she’d been so certain that she wasn’t the woman in the essay after all…but now she wondered.

“Well,” she said to herself, “it’s probably just a gathering of her friends. Don’t get all excited.”

But that Thursday, as she found a space in the parking lot and got out of her car, she couldn’t stop the tingling feeling of anticipation in her stomach. God, wouldn’t it be nice if the invitation really had been personal?

She found Sarah immediately upon entering the lounge. It was hard to miss her; she was the most beautiful woman there. She was sitting at a table by a window, alone—and dressed to kill in a black cocktail dress with a diving neckline.

Jayne stopped dead, her heart instantly beating double time. And then Sarah turned her head, met her eyes, and gave her such a smile that Jayne thought her knees might buckle. Somehow she made her way to the table and dropped into a chair, a little breathless from the effort of walking straight.

“Sarah,” she said, uncertain as to how much she could say but completely unable to keep her admiration to herself, “you look fantastic. Simply wonderful. And hey, I hear you’re a B.A. now. Congratulations—I’m so proud of you.”

“Thank you,” said Sarah, her eyes alight. “It’s an incredible feeling. It took so damn long to get that degree…but today I’m on top of the world. Not just because I’m a B.A., though.” She took a deep breath, and looked Jayne right in the eyes. “Because I’m not your student anymore. And because this is Thursday, not Friday, and tonight it’s just us.”

Jayne momentarily lost the power of speech, but under the brilliance of Sarah’s gaze she somehow got her throat to work again.

“Was I…” She stopped, appalled at the hoarseness of her voice. Clearing her throat, she tried again. “Was I the woman in the essay?”

Sarah nodded. “Yeah, you were. You mean you didn’t know?”

“Well…I thought I was at first, but you were very clever, Sarah. You made it just ambiguous enough that I couldn’t be sure. And all this time you’ve been so damned friendly—I ended up talking myself out of my convictions. I decided you must have meant someone else.”

“No. There’s never been anyone else. And I felt like I was leaping off a cliff when I wrote that. But you made it okay, and that made me even more attracted to you. You’ve been so kind and so generous, and as I’ve watched you with your friends I’ve seen a whole different side of you.” She raised an eyebrow. “And now that we’re both free, I’d like to get to know you better. Professor Williams, can I buy you a drink?”

Jayne stared at her. From four months of polite courtesy to this? She looked into confident blue eyes, so different now from the uncertain gaze she’d seen that first day in the lounge.

“I’d love a drink,” she said. “And I think you’d better make it a Manhattan.”

Sarah laughed. “Going straight for the hard stuff, huh?”

“Yeah. I think I’m going to need it. I’m still adjusting to the fact that I’m the woman in the essay.” Jayne wasn’t kidding; she felt dazed.

“Well, I’ll tell you what.” Sarah rose and leaned over, putting her lips right next to Jayne’s ear. “I’ll go get our drinks,” she whispered, “and you just think about that essay. Because I’ve been waiting for you. If you want me, I’m interested. I haven’t had that miracle yet, but I’m hoping I will, very soon.”

She straightened, flashed another smile at Jayne, and walked to the bar, leaving an extremely flustered and very aroused professor staring after her.

Jayne leaned back against her chair, resisting the urge to fan her face. “Holy fuck,” she muttered. “Who knew that was inside her?”

By the time Sarah returned with their drinks, Jayne was back in control. She knew exactly where she wanted this evening to go, and she had complete confidence that she and Sarah were on the same page.

“To the fledgling B.A.,” she said, raising her glass. “May your new wings take you wherever you want to go.”

Sarah touched her glass to Jayne’s. “Thank you, Professor.” She brought her glass to her lips, but stopped when Jayne gently caught her wrist.

“Sarah,” she said. “I want three things tonight.” Sarah tilted her head, watching her in some confusion. Jayne smiled at her, ever so slightly tightening her grip on the slender wrist.

“First, I want to take you home with me. Second, I want us both to have that miracle. And third, when the time comes and you can’t hold it in any longer—when I’m driving you past any control and you’re giving yourself up to me—I want you to call my name. And my name is not Professor Williams. Not to you; not anymore. Call me Jayne.”

The expression on that beautiful face nearly made her heart stop.

“Okay,” said Sarah softly. “I will.”

“Say it now.” Jayne let go of her wrist and lightly ran a single finger down it. “You’ll need to practice, you know.”

Sarah blushed as she put her glass down. “Jesus,” she said. “You’re making my hands shake.”

Jayne let the too-obvious comeback slide by, focusing on Sarah’s eyes as she repeated, “Say it. Please.”

They stared at each other while the seconds ticked past. And then:  “Jayne,” whispered Sarah.

Jayne briefly closed her eyes at the sound. “God,” she said. “I’ve been waiting a long time to hear you say that.”

“Jayne,” said Sarah, her voice more confident this time,  “I have no sympathy for you. You think you’ve been waiting? I’ve been dying, not knowing whether you’d take me up on my offer.”

“I took you up on your offer four months ago. I just couldn’t tell you.”

“In that case,” said Sarah, raising her glass, “let me propose a different toast. To the best goddamned classroom assignment I ever had.”

Jayne touched her glass to Sarah’s. “And to the best essay I’ve ever read.”

They looked at each other and began to laugh, and it seemed so natural when they spoke at the same time.

“To The Essay!”