2014 Fiction- Nothing’s Going On, by Nanci Lee Woody

Professor Hardy strode confidently into the classroom, straddled a stool, hooked his heels on a rung and spread wide his long legs. His girls, as he was prone to call them, gravitated to the front row, crossed their mini-skirted legs, and audaciously exposed their eager young thighs. This display excited and delighted Dr. Hardy and, because of his fondness for slim-fitting polyester pants, his arousal could be noticed by anyone paying attention. A low tittering sound could be heard from his history students as he was forced to leave the stool and continue his lecture behind the podium until he could get his mind back on to some war or other.

In the faculty lounge, when they were not in the presence of their few female colleagues, the men discussed this front-row visual pleasure phenomenon, laughing at their vulnerability and speculating about their opportunities.

Dr. Hardy had a reputation for delivering racy lectures, full of stories about the illicit love affairs of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower. He speculated about John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. He gave multiple-choice tests, few Fs, and assigned a large number of Incomplete grades to the hundreds of students who flocked to his classes each semester. The administration loved him.

One of the hundreds, Mary Alexia Fitch, just out of a disastrous but blessedly short marriage at the age of 20, was depressed. She was determined to set her life straight when she enrolled in Dr. Hardy’s American History class in the Fall of 1963. After the first few weeks of class, her depression lifted as she was increasingly taken with her teacher. She dyed her dark brown hair a golden blonde, ditched her post-divorce jeans and went shopping. And, she moved from the back of the theatre-sized classroom to the front row.

Dr. Hardy noticed her immediately. Mary Alexia wore a deep-cut V-neck sweater, pulled her long blonde hair over her shoulder and let it hang over one of her well-formed breasts. When she caught Dr. Hardy’s eye, she crossed her legs, briefly exposing her inner thighs. He was so preoccupied by Mary Alexia that he could barely concentrate on the Great Depression. His mind went blank right after mentioning the 25 percent unemployment rate and after a few moments of embarrassing silence, he dismissed class early.

Mary Alexia approached him as he was preparing to leave. “Dr. Hardy, I’ve been meaning to tell you how interesting I find your class. I never knew all these famous people had such interesting private lives, unlike us un-famous.”

“I’ve noticed how attentive you are, Miss Fitch, and it’s very flattering.”

“Call me Mary Alexia, please. And for sure I don’t miss a thing you say. You’re just the best instructor and, I’m, well, absolutely fascinated by you. Well, you know, by history.”

Dr. Hardy straightened, pushed back the curl that hung over his eyebrow.

“There doesn’t seem to be a thing you don’t know,” she went on.

“Not true,” he said, embarrassed by his own trite words. “I don’t know anything about you.”

She flicked her hair from her chest and over her shoulder. “Maybe we can talk over coffee or something.”

“I have an office hour now. Join me?”

Walking in front of Dr. Hardy in the hallway, she stayed close enough to back into him as they were jostled in the crowd. Dr. Jackson, coming from the opposite direction, caught sight of them, pushed his way through the mass of students and grabbed her arm.             “Mary Alexia!” He pronounced every syllable, stepped back to get a better look. “Even better than I remember.”

She smiled and looked directly into his eyes. “I assume you like what you see?”

His hand didn’t move from her arm as he leaned in close and whispered, “Love the hair color. You look fantastic.” He glanced at Richard, winked. “I suppose you’ve enrolled in a history class.”

“How could I not? Dr. Hardy has quite the reputation.”

“Well,” Dr. Jackson pouted. “I’m upset that you didn’t enroll in philosophy again. Perhaps in the Spring?”

Mary Alexia glanced triumphantly at Dr. Hardy before Dr. Jackson placed his hand on her chin and directed her eyes back toward his. “Promise me?” he asked again.

“Back off, Jack. She’s my student for now,” said Richard.

Dr. Jackson let his hand linger on Mary Alexia’s face before he replied. “I’m late for class anyway. You make sure she comes to see me, Dick.” He kept his eyes on Mary Alexia as he bumped his way down the hall.

“He’s lecherous. You have to watch out for him.”

 Mary Alexia smiled and rolled her eyes in agreement as Dr. Hardy grabbed her elbow and guided her into an alcove and to a door with two name plaques on it. Rodney Singer, Richard’s office mate, turned around in his chair, noted the hand signal that indicated his absence was requested, looked over Mary Alexia’s cleavage and tiny waist, and apologized for his abrupt exit.

She leaned against the doorjamb and crossed her legs. She placed her left hand under the back of her hair, fluffed it a little, and with an exaggerated motion, flipped it over her shoulder.  She caressed it and fondled it as it hung over her breast.

“I see,” Richard began, “this is not your first semester here. Apparently Dr. Jackson knows you well.”

“Oh, Jack. I was in his class last year.”

“First name basis?”

“We became close. He was sort of my counselor.” She shifted her weight, re-crossed her legs.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t offer you a seat. Here, please sit down.”

There was a small, low couch between the desks of Richard and Rodney.  Mary Alexia sank into it, tugging at the sides of her skirt in an attempt to cover her thighs.

His eyes devoured her legs each time she looked away to examine his personal space. “So, are you a full-time student? Do you have a job? Wait. Let me guess. I’ll bet you’re a model or a dancer.”

Mary Alexia wrapped her arms around her knees and leaned forward. “You think I could be a model?”

Richard nodded and could feel himself becoming aroused. He was enjoying the feeling and didn’t try to hide it.

“Well, I’m not a model, not yet. Now I’m just a full-time student majoring in art.”

“Really? I’m an art-lover myself. In fact, I just happen to have an excellent video on American artists. Wyeth. O’Keeffe. Sargent. Cassatt. You can borrow it if you like.”

Mary Alexia leaned back and again crossed her legs, this time not bothering with her skirt. “I’d absolutely love to see it. Maybe we could meet and talk about it afterwards. Do you have a favorite?”

Richard’s face showed a slight annoyance as the phone rang. His erection, about to become obvious, forced him to cross his legs on the stool. “Excuse me,” he muttered. He reached over her shoulder to pick up the phone on the table behind the couch, letting his leg touch hers. “This is Dr. Hardy.”

“And this is Dr. Hardy’s wife. Have you got a minute?”

Richard flipped his stool around, turning his back on Mary Alexia. “I’m with a student right now.”

“Sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to remind you I’m going to Bible study tonight and it starts at seven.”

“I didn’t forget, Betty, but you know as well as I that I’m in class ‘til 6:45.”

“So hurry home, that’s all. And pick up some sodas and chips. The kind with crinkles.”

Richard lowered his voice as he stiffened his back. “I thought your new diet nixed that kind of crap.”

“I don’t need you telling me what I can eat.”

“At least I should have some say in the kids’ diet.”

“I promised the twins a treat when they finish their homework and I have to have something, don’t I?”

“Why didn’t you promise them something nutritious?” He emphasized “nutritious” as he slid off the stool to stand, still facing away from Mary Alexia.

“When you’re here helping them with their homework, you can promise them carrots or broccoli or whatever you think will motivate them.”

He turned toward Mary Alexia, watching him with a Mona Lisa smile. “I can’t be two places at once, for God’s sakes.”

“Just pick up the chips. I have to study my Bible lesson before the kids get home. Talk to you later.”

Whatever warm feelings Dr. Hardy had before the phone call were totally gone after it. He replaced the receiver and said, “I’m sorry, but I have to run an errand before my next class.”

Mary Alexia stood, looked up at Richard, and smiled. “You forgot to say goodbye.”

“What?”

“To your wife. You didn’t say goodbye to your wife.”

Richard shrugged, reached for his coat.

“May I take the art video with me?”

He handed it to her and motioned towards the door. “I’ll be looking forward to seeing you again. Monday?” Dr. Hardy placed his hand on Mary Alexia’s back and nudged her toward the hall. The feel of her hair, thick and straight and heavenly soft, left his hand tingling long after they parted.

Richard pulled in the driveway at 7:05. Amy and Donny looked up from their TV program and chimed in unison as their dad entered the living room. “Did you bring the chips and sodas?” They giggled at their cleverness before returning their attention to the TV.

“Have you two finished your homework?” Richard immediately placed himself between the twins and the TV.

“Dad. We can’t see. Move.”

Richard turned down the sound. “I repeat. Have you finished your homework?”

 “Mom said we could do it later,” Amy slid down the couch to get a better view of the screen.

“Well, dad’s here now and it’s already past 7:00. I think you’d better do it now!” He flipped off the TV.

The twins let out a wail and ran to the kitchen table. Donny on his mother’s right side and Amy on the left, their arms wrapped tight around her middle, Donny whined, “Daddy turned off our program.”

“Dick. Is this necessary?” She grabbed another slice of sausage pizza. “You just got home and already they’re upset.” Betty scraped up all the loose pieces of sausage and scooped them into her mouth.

“If you mean is doing their homework necessary, then, yes it is.”

“But this is their favorite program. Donny and Amy, go ahead and watch it. But be sure to turn off the TV at 7:30 or Daddy will be mad.” Betty, avoiding Richard’s eyes, got up from the table, grabbed her Bible. “I’ve got to go. Fortunately,” she said, giving her husband thelook, “the Bible study is just next door or I’d really be late!”

The twins grabbed the chips from the grocery bag, rushed back to the living room, flicked on the TV, and got comfortable. “Dad, can we have a coke?”

“No!”

“You’re mean.”

Richard ignored them as he sat down at the table. Two pieces of pizza lay in a pool of grease in their cardboard box. He gingerly shoved the pizza onto his paper plate wondering what there might be to drink.  He remembered the sodas, reached into the grocery bag, hauled one out. At least they’re cold, he thought. Just like the pizza.

***

Richard awoke in the middle of the night feeling very needy. As he lay on his back, he felt a twitch, followed by a tingle, then that familiar swelling in the groin. He began to stroke himself when he realized with some astonishment that it had been weeks since he’d had any sort of physical release. He rolled over, put one arm around Betty’s waist, curled up around her back, and rubbed up against her. He slid his hand across her tummy, up to one breast. He fondled it as he began kissing her on the back of her neck.

“Betty, wake up,” he whispered. She pulled away from him ever so slightly, but did not open her eyes.

“Come on, Betty.” He pushed her panties down and thrust up against her bare skin, his hands still fondling her breasts. “Betty, Betty. Please.”

His wet nakedness made the skin on the back of her upper thighs slick as he slid easily in and out between them. He had a vision of Mary Alexia crossing her legs on the couch in his office just before he erupted into a spasm of delight.

In a matter of minutes, he was drifting off to sleep. Betty pulled away from him and headed to the toilet, mumbling, “You’ve been getting weirder and weirder since you hit 45.”

***

Richard arrived early at his office on Monday morning to find Rodney and Mary Alexia drinking coffee and eating cookies.

“Oh, Dr. Hardy. I just couldn’t wait to tell you how much I loved that video. Andy Warhol is my absolute favorite artist.”

Rodney stood as Richard came in. “And to show you her gratitude, Dick, she baked chocolate chip cookies—with walnuts. And I’m the lucky beneficiary.” Rod made a show of checking his watch.  “Oh, will you look at the time. Sorry to have to leave you two, but I’ve got a meeting.”

“Later, Rod.” Richard plopped onto the stool and admired Mary Alexia’s luscious blonde hair that contrasted perfectly with her turquoise blue sweater. “I can’t remember when I last had homemade cookies.”

“Your wife doesn’t bake for you?” Her bright red lips showed a slight pout.

“She spends a lot of time with the kids.” Richard bit into a cookie. “They’re still warm. What time did you get up?”

“I run early every morning, down the alley, past your house, actually. I love your back porch, covered and with the swing and all. And I really wanted to do something for you, you know, because of the video.”

She leaned forward, her legs slightly apart, and brushed a crumb off Richard’s lapel. “I hope you don’t mind. It’s just that you always look so perfect.”

Richard looked longingly at her breasts, her legs. He started to get that good feeling again, but checked it as he reminded himself that he, too, had an early meeting. “Seems like I’m always in a hurry, but I do have to go. I can’t tell you how much you’ve brightened my day.”

“No problem,” she purred. “I love to bake.”

Within a matter of weeks, Mary Alexia was a daily attraction in Richard’s office. She always brought cookies fresh from the oven – peanut butter, oatmeal and raisin, ginger snaps, snicker doodles. She filed his papers, graded his tests and brought him coffee. The only thing Richard insisted on her not doing was answering the phone.

He fell into the habit of guessing what she would be wearing. Maybe her brown boots with the beige shorts, the outfit that gave a particularly nice view when she leaned over the lower file drawer. He was particularly pleased when she wore her all black ensemble. A low-cut sweater, her long blonde hair falling everywhere, high heels, short-short skirt.

This is precisely what she had on the day she put her hands on his shoulders, pulled her body close to his, and said, “Dr. Hardy, Richard, I’ve been wanting so bad to tell you. I’m falling in love with you.”

“I, I, but I’ve been married for 15 years! I have two kids!”

“I know, I know. But I just can’t help myself.” She ran her hands down his arms, squeezed gently. “I like so much just being with you, doing things for you. You’re so smart and handsome, you’re just everything I’ve always wanted.”

She put one hand on his cheek, and with tears in her eyes, pleaded, “Kiss me. Please.” She leaned forward into his body, gently placing his arms around her. “I can’t even tell you how lonely I’ve been and how hard it’s been for me to be with you every day and never touch you. Please.” She placed her arms around his waist and could feel him respond as she squirmed against his body.

“But I’m married!”

Her face moved closer, her breath entered his nostrils, her lips brushed against his.

“But I’m—”

Any resistance he had melted away as Mary Alexia put her hand over his mouth and slid her tongue through her fingers. He tightened his arms around her right before he felt a stab of terror as a key jiggled in the lock. His body gave a quick jolt as he murmured, “Oh, God, it’s Rod.”

He backed away from Mary Alexia so suddenly she lost her balance and tumbled onto the couch, legs flying everywhere.

Rodney opened the door slightly. “Anybody home?” he chimed, before he opened it fully and stood looking on.

Richard darted back to his desk, bumped his knee on the stool, then watched it crash to the floor. As he bent to pick up the stool, he knocked the plate of chocolate chip cookies off his desk, squishing them under his shoe as his leg slid forward. “Oh, shit,” he groaned. His hand caught the edge of the desk and sent a pile of tests sailing to the floor to join the cookies. He grabbed futilely at the tests as Mary Alexia, having the same impulse, leaned forward from the couch. Their heads crashed together hard. Richard cried out as one hand grabbed his forehead and the other his lower back, forcing him onto one knee on the floor. He groaned in pain, stuck.

Rod, watching the show from the doorway, couldn’t contain his amusement. He burst into laughter and staggered down the hall just as the phone rang.

Let me get it,” Richard cried, still holding his back. He reached with one hand, grimaced, and fell on all fours to the floor.

Mary Alexia jumped up and grabbed the receiver. She tried to hand it to Richard, but the cord was too short. As she tried to stretch it, the base of the phone crashed to the floor. She could hear a woman’s voice over the clamor.

“Hello? Dick? What’s going on there?”

Mary Alexia placed the phone to her ear. “Hello,” she whispered.

“Who’s this?” Betty demanded.

“Mary Alexia Fitch.”

“Fitch? Isn’t this Richard Hardy’s office?”

“Yes. Yes, it is, but . . .

“May I speak to him, then?”

“I, I don’t think so.”

“And may I ask why not?”

“He’s on the floor right now.”

“What?”

“On the floor. I . . . “

“Would you please give the phone to my husband!”

“I can’t because the cord won’t reach and he can’t move. His back—”

“I’ll be right there!” Betty was in her car within 60 seconds. She screeched into the parking lot and ran into Richard’s office, where he was still on his knees on the floor, unable to move. She surveyed the mess of cookies on the floor, the tests strewn all over, the stool tipped on its side, and Mary Alexia hovering over Richard, her long blonde hair hanging over her shoulder and onto his.

“What in the world?  Dick Hardy, what is going on?”

“For God’s sake, Betty. Can’t you see I’m in pain?”

Betty knelt beside Richard, pushing Mary Alexia aside. “Just get out of my way.”

She helped Richard onto his back on the floor. She straddled his body and manipulated his right leg to the left side of his body, then his left leg to the right side until there was a loud pop as his spine reassembled itself.

“Ahhhhhh,” Richard sighed.

Betty rolled him over and began massaging his back, prodding and pushing on the lower vertebrae.

Mary Alexia leaned forward. “Can I do anything to help?”

Richard didn’t lift his head off the floor. “No. No. I’m fine,” he groaned.

“Maybe I could clean up. Pick up these cookies or—”

As she bent over to pick up a test, Betty, still astride Richard, glanced up to see Mary Alexia’s red lace panties not more than 12 inches from her face.

“Young lady, it would help a lot if you’d go home and put on some decent clothes.”

Mary Alexia whipped around and scowled at Betty. “If I was fat, I’d wear old sweats, too.”

Betty stopped massaging and glared at her. “Listen here, Mary Anorexia. You leave this office right now.”

“I’m not leaving until I know Richard is all right.” She glared at Betty defiantly.

“Richard,” she emphasized the word, “is going to be just fine. I’ve been helping my husband through this problem since before you were born!”

“Betty, let’s go home. I can get up now.”

 Betty helped her husband to his feet. Bent over, his hand still on his back, he said to Mary Alexia. “We’re going now.”

She stepped around Richard and Betty. “I’ll check on you later.” She strutted down the hall, her black skirt swinging high above her knees.

“You’ve got some serious explaining to do, Dick Hardy.”

“Just get me home now. Please.” They walked slowly toward the parking lot, he crouching over, she propping him up. The short drive home was a silent one.

***

The twins ran out as they pulled into the driveway. “Donny, Dad’s back’s out again. Let’s help.” They ran to their dad as he was hobbling slowly along. Betty on one side and the two kids on the other, they managed to get him to his bed.

“I’m going to feed the kids now,” Betty said, holding back the tears, “and then I’m going next door to a meeting with the deacons and women’s auxiliary which I can’t avoid because I have to chair it. The twins can put themselves to bed. When I get back from the meeting, we have some serious talking to do.”

Richard winced as she wheeled around and exited the bedroom. How would he ever explain to his naturally suspicious wife that a twenty-year-old divorcee was infatuated, no, she’d said ‘in love’, with him? It would be impossible, unforgivable, if Betty found out how he had behaved. With those disturbing thoughts, he dozed off into a fitful sleep.

Betty returned from her meeting only an hour after it started with a head-splitting migraine. She wasted no time. “I couldn’t concentrate. All I could think of was that Mary Bitch girl hovering over my husband. I could see her pubic hairs through those damned lace panties of hers. And what were you doing before I arrived? And for the last few months? My mind has been running away with me, so just tell me, Dick. What’s going on?”

“Nothing, Betty.” Richard lay flat on his back, still in pain, looking at the ceiling. “Nothing’s going on.”

“She has a possessive air about her, so you’re not telling the truth. Are you?” Her hand was massaging her forehead.

“She’s a student, Betty. And maybe she’s infatuated with her teacher. That happens all the time.”

“How much time does she ‘maybe’ spend being infatuated with ‘her teacher’?”

“She helps me—you know, grading papers, filing. Things like that.”

“Helps you? I can’t believe this! I saw her bend over. You must be getting quite a thrill out of this half-naked teenager.”

“You’re blowing things way out of proportion.”

“Am I? I know she shows you her panties. What else does she show you?”

“Betty, please. It’s not what you think. It’s, it’s . . . “

She put her hands on the sides of her head. “I can’t hear any more lies now. My head is killing me.”

Betty retreated into the bathroom, swallowed two pain pills and a tranquilizer. She slipped on a gown, walked over to the side of the bed and screamed, “And, I’m not fat! That stick figure, forgive me God, whore-of-a-girl belongs in a hospital, not a college.” She lay down on the bed as far away from her husband as she could.

He reached for her. “Betty, I . . . “

“Don’t even think about touching me. I already feel violated.” She began to cry, great sobs at first, then a steady, silent flow of tears until the drugs took effect and she slipped into a pain-numbing sleep.

***

Richard lay awake for a long time, fidgeting, changing positions, rubbing his back. He could hear voices from the back yard next door. The church crowd had moved outside for their snacks and social time. He slid his knees sideways, slowly dropped his feet to the floor, stood and walked gingerly to the window. He saw Pastor Adam and his crowd through the hedge. Just as he was about to return to bed, he saw from the corner of his eye a shadowy figure – “Surely not!” – on the roof that adjoined their bedroom. He blinked his eyes, shook his head, and looked again. He wasn’t imagining it.

“Oh, shit. Oh, my God,” he thought. “It’s her!” She was creeping feline-like on all fours to his bedroom window.

He looked back at the bed to make sure Betty was still asleep, cranked open the window, stuck his head out, and gestured wildly for her to leave.

“I’ve got to talk to you!” she hissed.

“Not here. I’ll come down.” Again he gestured for her to leave. “Please.”

He heard Betty groan, pulled his head back in. “Dick?” He stood silent as she rolled over, still asleep.

Again, he poked his head out. Mary Alexia was right outside the window now. With a loud whisper, he ordered, “Get off this roof! I’ll meet you downstairs.”

He closed the window, pulled the blind down, and hurried outside. He found a ladder propped against the roof, her heels on the ground beside it. Except for her blonde hair highlighted by the moonlight, she was barely visible in her black mini skirt and sweater

“Come down right now! What in the hell are you doing here?”

“I told you I’d check on you later,” she said, descending the ladder. “Well, this is later.”

“Shhh. Not so loud. I don’t want the neighbors to hear.”

Mary Alexia stopped at the bottom rung, turned around, pointed at him and laughed. “Look at you. In your shorts. How funny!”

“This is absolutely not funny.” He grabbed her arm and guided her to the back yard.

“Wait. My shoes! They’re new!”

“For God’s sakes. I’ve got to get you out of here.”

She pulled away from him, ran back to the ladder and put on her heels.

Richard again grabbed her arm in the dark. As they were headed around the garage, he tripped over the garbage can, listened dejectedly as it made a loud clanking sound rolling down the driveway. “I can’t believe this is happening to me.”

“Well, what about me? What am I supposed to do when you just walk out on me?”

He yanked on her arm and dragged her through the back yard. Her high heel sunk into the soggy, over-watered grass, stuck and broke.

“Wait!” she demanded. She pulled the shoe out of the grass, shook off the dirt, and put it back on. “Look what you’ve done. My shoe is ruined.”

“Shhh! They’re going to hear us. Come here,” he whispered through his teeth. He pointed to a tree by the back fence. “You’re going to put your foot in my hand and I’m going to hoist you up to that branch so you can get over the fence and go home.”

“I’m not climbing some stupid tree in the dark. And with my good clothes on. Besides, I still want to talk.” She crossed her arms, turned her back to him.

“I will talk to you on Monday morning,” he hissed. “Not a minute before. Now, quit this outrageous behavior. My wife and kids are upstairs, and the preacher is right there!” He pointed through a hole in the fence at the church fathers drinking coffee with their wives. “Come on. Put your foot here. Right now. Do as I say.”

Mary Alexia reluctantly placed her broken high-heeled foot into Richard’s cupped hands, and allowed herself to be hoisted up to the fork in the tree. Richard, ignoring his aching back, scrambled up behind her, in the process badly scratching his stomach and arms. He helped her straddle the fence. Just as he was lowering her to the ground, a car came crawling down the alley toward them.

“Richard! Stop. My sleeve’s caught on a nail! Oh! Now look what you’ve done. My best sweater’s ruined, too.”

Before he could respond, a spotlight hit him squarely in the face. He let go of Mary Alexia, heard the rip as she tumbled to the ground. Following right behind, he leapt off the fence. A stabbing pain hit him in the lower back as his bare feet hit the gravel.

The face behind the spotlight spoke. “Don’t move, mister. I’m getting out of the car now.”

“Wait! You don’t understand. I live here.” Richard whimpered.

The patrolman looked at Richard standing there in his shorts, and he looked at the youthful Mary Alexia in her torn sweater and muddy shoes. “Sure you do. Where’s your ID?”

“Obviously I don’t carry ID in my skivvies.”

“Where might it be, then?”

“It’s in the house. Right there. I just told you that’s where I live.”

“Well, why don’t we just go right on in there and you can get it, then.”

“Forget I said that. Please. My wife’s in there. She’s sick, asleep.  I can’t do that!”

The patrolman surveyed Mary Alexia carefully. “How old are you, young lady?”

“Listen, here. Don’t make wild assumptions. I have my rights . . . “

“I think I’m taking the two of you to the station. Get in.”

The church crowd in the back yard took notice of the flashing light on the patrol car. As Richard saw the preacher leading them his way, he dived into the back seat of the patrol car.

Mary Alexia took her time climbing in behind him.

The preacher called out to his flock, “Lord God Almighty. The police are here behind Sister Betty’s house and they just picked up a strange young woman.”

Richard put his head between his bare, scratched knees as the patrol car pulled out of the alley.             When they arrived at the station, Mary Alexia, her face smudged with a mix of tears and mascara, limped away on her broken high heel as she was taken to a separate room to be questioned.

Richard, no clothes, no ID, scratched and bleeding, found with a young student, was under suspicion. His humiliation was complete when he was issued a striped jail shirt and trousers.  Nothing he said during interrogation, especially since the truth evaded him, helped his cause. Finally, after two hours, the officer agreed to release him into the custody of his wife, only, he was reminded, because he was a local community college professor.

At 2:30 a.m., with a reluctance born of guilt and dread, Richard dialed the phone.

It rang six times before Betty, still feeling no pain, reached across the bed for her husband. “Dick. The phone. Get it, will you?”

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