The Loves of Julie Pearson - 13

The Loves of Julie Pearson - 13

By Katherine Day

(Ms. Julie Pearson becomes news as she prepares for her first year of teaching after her transition. Her femininity captivates many an eye. Edited by Eric. A sequel to two short stories published in 2013, “Julie’s Odyssey” and “Gifts for Julie.”) (Copyright 2014)

Chapter Thirteen: In the Public Eye
As Labor Day weekend approached, my anxiety over the first day of school became overwhelming. Mrs. Hammond had talked to me on the last day of orientation to inform me that she expected some trouble on the opening day, largely from a noisy Evangelistic group that has been known to show up at sites where they can stir up conflict. In addition, several local pastors had written a joint letter to the School District Board complaining that my hiring flew in the face of the teachings of Christianity and violated “family values.”

Again, I offered to step down from teaching that semester, but Mrs. Hammond would have none of it: “We’ve made our decision. It’s the right decision and we’re not stepping away from it, Miss Pearson.”

How could I not support this strong, principled woman? I told her that I would try to stay strong and hoped that I would not prove her decision to hire me to have been the wrong decision.

“You won’t, my dear,” she said. “Now the reason I called you in here was to explain the plans for the first day of school. I think we’re prepared for whatever happens but I need your approval and agreement to follow our recommendations.”

I nodded, indicating I wanted to hear more. She called in the vice principal, a stern-faced man whose scowl seemed to stare down even the most recalcitrant student. I know I was frightened of the man, who still wore a crew cut from his days in Iraq as a Marine shore patrol officer; his hair had thinned a bit and was touched with bits of gray.

“Mr. Benson is in charge of security and discipline in the school and he’ll outline the plan,” she said.

He looked at me with his dark, piercing eyes and I felt guilty, though of what I didn’t know. Perhaps he knew of my trysts with Harriet Simpson or my infatuation with the teenager Randy. It was obvious to me he disapproved of me and likely had more in common with the angry group seeking to deny me the teaching position than with his appointed task of assuring that I could be kept safe as I began to teach at the school.

“You put us in a difficult complicated position, Miss Pearson,” he began.

Mrs. Hammond interrupted him, “Just tell her the plan, Scott. We all know how you feel about Miss Pearson’s decision, but it’s my decision with the support of the superintendent and the Board that Miss Pearson will be given a chance to prove herself as a teacher.”

“As you say, ma’am,” Scott Benson said.

“Thank you, Scott,” she said more gently. “I know you’ll do a good job in following through on this.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said crisply.

Mr. Benson outlined the plan in some detail and I was impressed with his preparation. He seemed to think of everything and I thanked him for his effort. For some reason, I felt comforted that this military-trained man would do just exactly that, even if he may have found me pathetic and disgusting.

My ears filled with a familiar buzz being repeated over and over before I realized it was my cell phone that I had left plugged into the charger on my night stand. Still in a daze, I reached over to pick it up to answer it.

“Julie, this is Paul Phillips next door,” the voice said excitedly. His tone brought me immediately to my senses.

“Yes, Paul,” I said, puzzled by the anxiety in his voice.

“Sorry bother you at this hour, but I think you should know there are several TV trucks in front of your house, looking your place over,” he said.

“What time is it?”

“About six-thirty Sunday morning,” he said. “I think they’re out there looking to interview you about the story in the morning paper.”

“What story?”

“About you beginning to teach as a woman at Farragut. Oh, you didn’t know it was in the news?”

“Oh my God Paul, what should I do?”

“I’m not sure, but for one thing don’t answer your door or raise your curtains,” he counseled. “That’ll buy you some time. If you’d like I’ll pop over and maybe I can help. I used to deal with those vultures from the media.”

I thought for a minute, agreeing that Paul’s presence might help. Being an older man, who still had a commanding appearance from his days as the district leader for a prominent labor union, I felt he’d be most helpful. I agreed to leave the back door unlocked so that he could sneak over (unseen by the media it was to be hoped) and into the house. I asked for ten minutes in which to brush my teeth, run some water over my face and put on my sweats.

“Here you are right on Page One,” Paul said, plopping down the front news section of the Sunday morning newspaper that he brought with him.

“My God, where did they get that picture?” I asked, seeing a picture of me teaching in the classroom from last semester.

“Looks like from somebody’s cell phone,” he offered.

“Could I look any more pathetic in that picture?”

“Julie, it’s not too bad. People always hate seeing their own images in print,” he said, though it did little to reassure me that I wouldn’t appear to be a total loser to the general public.

Within minutes of his arrival, Mrs. Hammond called me; I put my cell on speaker phone and Paul joined in the discussion. After several exchanges, it was agreed that Mrs. Hammond would announce to the press that there’d be a press conference at the school at ten in the morning.

While I was on the phone with Mrs. Hammond, Marian Phillips from next door arrived to join her husband, adding her support. I hugged her briefly as I continued to hold the cell phone to my ear, smiling at the older woman.

I had known Mr. and Mrs. Phillips were strong advocates of civil rights of all sorts; their lawn seemed always to be adorned with yard signs supporting one cause or the other. I had also learned that this remarkable older couple – who had raised six children in their small house – practiced the kindness and generosity that they seemed espouse in public issues.

“I’ll get rid of the press,” Paul said, upon hearing of the planned press conference.

“How are you going to do that?” I asked.

“Just watch me,” he said. “Tell me the details of that press conference. When, where and who’ll be there.”

As I outlined the plan in detail for him, he wrote the information down on a folded sheet of paper. He turned to his wife and grabbed her hand: “Come on out with me Marian. Your presence will help.”

He opened the front door and shouts of “here she comes” . . . “don’t you mean here he comes” . . . “no it’s here it comes.” Paul left the door ajar so that I could hear what was being said. I kept myself hidden from view and I could hear the random shouts continue until I heard Paul speak in a loud, commanding voice: “All right. All right. Here’s the story.”

“Where’s the teacher?” . . . “Who are you?” The shouts from the media crews continued.

“My name is Paul Phillips and this is my wife, Marian,” he said, when the group finally quieted down.

“We have been next door neighbors of the Pearson family for years and I watched Julie Pearson grow up. I can personally testify to the honesty and integrity of both Miss Pearson and her late mother and I know there is no person more dedicated to becoming a good teacher and more committed to her students than Julie is. . .”

“That’s all well and good, but produce her . . . or him,” came a loud voice whom I identified as the chief news anchor for WELI, the area’s most-watched news channel.

“You won’t see her here, folks, but there will be a press conference at 10 a.m. this morning at the front entrance to Farragut High School. I promise you Julie Pearson will be there. Now please go and leave our neighborhood in peace.”

Paul abruptly finished, took Marian by the hand and returned to the house.

“I think they’ll hang around a bit, but soon go,” he said. “There’ll be probably a few that will continue to hang out around here. I’ll get some of the neighbors to shoo them off your property. They can stand on the sidewalk, but not on anyone’s property.”

I offered to make them coffee, but Marian said, “No dear, you go get a shower and get ready for the press conference. I’ll figure out everything. By the way, have you had anything to eat?”

“No, but I’m not hungry,” I said.

“You better eat something or you might faint up at the conference,” she said, smiling. No doubt she had had similar conversations with her own children many times over.

“I guess so,” I nodded. I suggested that I’d like oatmeal, a banana, toast and orange juice, a selection that brought a smile to Mrs. Phillips’ always cheerful face. I always wondered how the woman could smile with raising a large family.

I took my shower and got ready for the day, choosing a pair of grey slacks, a loose-fitting, violet and blush pink blouse with a scooped bodice and short capped sleeves; Marian came in to brush my hair and affix a pink colored hair band, letting the my light brown hair fall casually to my shoulders. Taking her advice, I applied only modest makeup, natural colored lipstick and foundation, adding a bit of color to my cheeks.

“There you are darling,” she announced, obviously pleased with the result. “You look like a typical young schoolteacher, far from the floozy the press probably would like to characterize you as being.”

Returning to the kitchen, I was surprised to see half the neighborhood there, laughing and talking, all sharing coffee.

“I didn’t think you’d mind me inviting them in, Julie,” Paul said. “I called them over to keep the press off our properties and they did such a good job, the TV trucks and all packed up their gear and left.”

I hugged Heidi Nordquist and her daughter, Susie, and greeted Bobby McCloskey and his older sister, Carol, with handshakes, thanking all of them profusely.

“You should have seen Mrs. Nordquist shoo those reporters away,” Bobby said.

“Yeah, mom, you seem to scare them right outa their pants,” giggled Susie.

I can imagine the loud-voiced Heidi Nordquist using her commanding size literally moving the throng into submission.

“You didn’t do so badly yourself, Bobby,” Heidi said.

“I think you all did well,” Paul said.

“We all wish you well, Julie,” Marian said.

The group clapped and I began to cry. Could anyone be as fortunate as I was just then? Here I was facing perhaps the most traumatic experience of my life, ready to bare my life to the whole community, and I found something that is so special and so rare: the good-feeling and support of my neighbors.

I was spirited into the side entrance at the school by Mr. Benson, the vice principal, who had picked me up at my home and driven me to Farragut for the press conference.

To my surprise, he was kind to me, and reassured me that everything will be OK and that I should just give it time for everyone to get used to the new female teacher. “I admire you, Miss Pearson, for your courage in this, even though I don’t understand this whole business of changing your sex,” he admitted as we drove it.

“Thank you, sir,” I said, gratified by his confession. “I only hope that I prove I’m going to be worth all the trouble I’m putting the school – and yourself – through.”

“From what I’ve heard, you should do just fine,” he said.

It seemed television satellite trucks were everywhere as we approached the school; Mr. Benson drove his large Ford Pickup truck around to a back street. There he took a service drive to the school and continued to the side entrance. Telling me to wait in the car, he rushed to the door and used a key to open it. He darted back to the truck, opening my door and ushering me into the school, just as a pack of media folks began accosting us.

Everything happened so fast that I had no time to contemplate the gravity of the situation. I had never been on camera before and was always shy when it came to public presentations and had I had time to think about it, I probably would have run off, never to be heard from again. Yet, I found myself sitting primly, my hands folded on my lap, on a folding chair at the top of the half dozen steps leading to the entrance to school. A podium had been set up in the center of the bank of doors at the entrance, with chairs set up on either side of it.

“Stay calm, dear,” Mrs. Hammond said. She sat next to me, with Jeremy Hudson, the Student Council president, sitting on the other side.

“Carmen Mendoza told me what a great teacher you are, Miss Pearson,” Jeremy turned to address me. “I contacted as many members of the Council as I could when I heard the news and was happy to answer to Mrs. Hammond’s request to show up here. Everyone I talked to supports you and that’s a majority of the board, so I’ll say so at this press conference.”

“Thank you, Jeremy,” I said.

In spite of all the support I was receiving, I still shivered, frightened over what might be awaiting me as I considered what I would tell the reporters. Mr. Benson had given me a brief idea of what to say, and urged me to keep my remarks brief. In the meantime, I tried to look calm and dignified, holding my head up and looking out into the crowd; thankfully, Jeremy was in a talkative mood and kept me engaged in conversation. I could hear the clicks of the digital cameras, and as I looked out upon the crowd of media and other onlookers, I could see they were eyeing me up and down, trying obviously to see what type of person chooses to turn from a guy to a woman.

“You look very much like a lovely young teacher.” I recognized the voice of Hank Duke, speaking as he sat down at an empty seat just beyond the student council president.

“Coach Duke, how nice to see you,” I said, my voice retaining a neutral tone, I hoped.

“Good morning Jeremy,” Hank said shaking the student’s hand.

Mrs. Hammond, who had been talking with the superintendent for a while, broke off that conversation and turned to me.

“I asked Coach Duke and Jeremy both to come and make brief statements in support of you, Miss Pearson,” she said. “I know Hank called a number of other teachers and you can see them showing up now as well. As football coach, Hank said he’d be pleased to give his professional support as a teacher, as well as to indicate that virtually all your colleagues very much approve your appointment.”

When I realized the level of support I was receiving, I felt like crying. To find so many persons willing to come on short notice during a holiday weekend was overwhelming, but somehow I held my emotions in check.

“I appreciate what everyone has done,” I said.

Mrs. Hammond patted my hand and said, “You deserve it, my dear. I guess I better get this thing started.”

I hardly heard what Mrs. Hammond said to the media since I was so preoccupied about how I was going to handle the brief statement that I had decided I should make. I hoped that I could read the statement without crying, and that embarrassing prospect hounded me as Mrs. Hammond and then the superintendent made their remarks.

Later I read from news accounts that she told them I had proven myself to be an exemplary teacher who had handled difficult classes with success; she said that I was a “born teacher” and one whom the District would be proud to have on staff.

“High school students today are exposed to all forms of life styles and most students know full well there are individuals like Miss Pearson,” the principal said. “For some, her presence may be offensive, and we understand and respect that, but we only hope that they not judge Miss Pearson until they have seen her in action.”

The superintendent discussed mainly the legal aspects of the situation, noting that while transgendered women do not have protection under gender discrimination laws there is a chance that to reject such a person on such gender grounds alone could subject the district to law suits. He also noted that the State had already recognized Miss Pearson as “female” on state documents.

The principal and the superintendent faced questions at the end of their statements, and both took several, keeping their answers short.

Hank Duke and Jeremy Hudson made their presentations, both saying that during my semester of substitute teaching I had shown true talent for teaching. “Even Miss Pearson while still a man did appear to be a sissy or wimp to many students,” Jeremy said, “She quickly earned their respect. None of the students in her classes ever talked against her that I know of.”

Coach Duke admitted that some teachers were concerned that hiring me might cause some disruption; yet, he told the press, no one questioned my ability to teach. He said the teachers, as far as he had heard, generally liked me as a colleague.

I was afraid I may have been blushing as the two offered their praises.

Perhaps because the press was eager to hear from me, they had few questions for Coach Duke or Jeremy. Soon I was introduced and as I walked stiffly in my short-heeled sandals a hush came over the media crowd, the silence broken mainly by the rhythmical clicks of cameras, the whirring of video cams and occasional frustrated demands of the camera-wielders as they jostled for better angles.

I had prepared a statement and ran it by Mrs. Hammond, who made a few minor changes. I was prepared to read it verbatim and then walk away from the microphone. As I approached the microphone, my hand shook so badly that I merely held the paper to my side. I saw Mrs. Hammond who was at my side wince at my shaky appearance.

“Friends,” I began, my voice coming out almost as a squeak, “Thank you for coming. I never wanted to be the center of attention.”

“Take your time Miss Pearson,” a voice from the crowd yelled. I recognized it as coming from Thomas, the difficult student I had in my class the previous semester. His encouraging shout seemed to put me at ease. I didn’t refer to the paper as I began to speak; I had nearly memorized the words, it seemed, and found speaking extemporaneously worked far more easily.

“First, I need to thank Mrs. Hammond, Superintendent Taylor, Coach Duke and Jeremy Hudson for their kind words. I only hope I am able to live up to their praise in the coming school year.”

The words now came freely and my voice settled down to its natural feminine nature, a bit low, soft and breathy. I continued, growing more at ease as I spoke:

“I only want to be the best teacher I can be. In no way do I wish to cause disruption in the school or to hinder the ability to teach your children. I only want to be given a chance. Also, I have no desire to foist my transition to influence the students in any way. I am not a crusader.

“Those who know me well accept me as a woman. All of my life I have felt I was a female and when I was a child I was always attracted to same things that girls were, such as dolls and pretty dresses. My mother who was the love of my life and passed only a year ago recognized the girl that was emerging before her and eventually allowed me to dress in pretty girl clothes in the privacy of our home. I hope you all will accept me as who I am, a woman. Thank you.”

The mention of my mother brought tears to my eyes and I walked back to my seat vainly fighting back tears. Mrs. Hammond took me in her arms and hugged me, whispering, “That was very nice, Miss Pearson.”

A few questions were shouted, but Mrs. Hammond returned to the microphone and told the media that marked the end of the press conference, adding:

“I would like to appeal to your sense of decency and to your recognition that you not treat this in a sensational manner. The hiring of Miss Pearson may be troubling to some and it is worth public discussion, but I urge you to respect Miss Pearson’ privacy, as well as the school’s need to educate.”

As the press conference ended, I noticed some of the media folks charging forward, obviously to seek a few juicy quotes from me and others who were gathered around the area just in front the school entrance where the microphone had been set up. Their onslaught was stopped by several of the City of Wantoch’s finest.

“I doubt if this press conference or Mrs. Hammond’s pleas will end this frenzy,” Hank said.

I turned to him and agreed, adding, “Hank, I really appreciate your coming and being willing to support me.”

“Yes, Coach Duke, that was great of you,” echoed Jeremy.

“Miss Pearson, I did it because it is the right thing to do,” he said simply, keeping his voice flat and direct. If he had any feelings for me, he did not show them. I thanked him again and turned around, expecting to find Paul Phillips who was to take me home. Instead, I found Harriet Simpson awaiting me.

“I hope you don’t mind, Julie,” she said. “I told your neighbor that I’d take care of you. I’m thinking maybe you should spend the rest of today and tomorrow at my place, where the vultures won’t find you.”

“That’s sweet of you Harriet, but there’s no reason you should waste your time with me. This is my problem.”

“Please, I’d love to have you,” she smiled.

“But I don’t have any clothes . . .”

“We can arrange to get what you need later. What do you say?”

To be honest, I loved the idea; Harriet and I had become comfortable friends – as well as occasional lovers – during the summer and I pictured a warm, peaceful time with her. She also promised to give me space so that I could continue preparing for the classes I would teach. While I had been working on developing my teaching plans for several weeks, I was still not sure of several areas and wanted time to complete them. She admitted she had work to do on planning for her first school play and might like her newly-appointed assistant (me) to help out.

Besides, I imagined us collapsing together at night onto her large queen-sized bed, snuggled together in each other’s arms. I always felt protected as I nestled against her firm, smooth, toned body.

My dreams for enjoying a lover’s night together were dashed almost immediately. On the drive to her apartment, Harriet said, “We will have to have a chaste friendship, Julie, through the school year. I have a guest room with a comfortable bed and a desk where you can work. We can’t sleep together or give any hint that we ever had sexual relations. I think you can understand why.”

“You’re right,” I said. Of course, she was right, but I still wondered if we could live up to the demands to refrain from cuddling, kissing and caressing.

We were both silent for much of the drive until Harriet finally said: “Looks like we got rid of the media, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, that was clever of you to devise that plan,” I said.

“Wasn’t that sweet of Miss McPherson to agree to switch jackets with you and wear your hair band and sunglasses?” Harriet said, referring to one of the new teachers. While Laura McPherson was taller and huskier, the disguise worked well enough to draw the media’s attention.

“And for my neighbor Paul to take her home, thus dragging the media off the scent,” I said, giggling.

“Can you imagine the looks on their faces when he drops her off at her home miles from yours, minus your glasses, hair band and jacket?”

I couldn’t be more grateful to the myriad of people who have gone out of their way to support me. Now it was up to me to be worthy of their sacrifices. Was I strong enough, intelligent enough and determined enough to justify their trust in me?

After getting me settled in her apartment, Harriet drove over to pick up my clothes, toiletries, laptop and the things I needed to work on my school preparation. Paul and Marian Phillips generously assisted her in finding the materials in my home, sometimes taking time out to shoo nosey reporters and camera operators from the property. They even devised a complicated plan to fool the reporters so that they would not follow Harriet as she returned to her apartment. Among other bits of diversion, Harriet borrowed her sister’s car so that the reporters could not trace the license plate back to her.

It worked to perfection and by early afternoon that Sunday, I was deeply involved in my school work; the day had become warm and I changed into a pair of short shorts and a tank top; Harriet suggested turning on the air conditioner, but we both agreed there was a pleasant breeze from the water that kept the place relatively comfortable.

“Julie you have the loveliest legs,” she told me at one point in the afternoon, having come into the guest room where I was working.

“Yours are pretty hot themselves,” I replied. She wore a longer pair of shorts and a sleeveless blouse, exposing the firm sinews of her limbs. I found the masculine nature of her body to be most attractive.

“Not for a woman; mine are too muscular,” she argued. “I look too weird in sleeveless dresses. You’re just the softest, loveliest of creatures, Julie.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” I replied honestly. I saw Harriet Simpson as a truly lovely woman, even with her hard, slender physique.

“Enough of this mutual admiration stuff,” she said. “I just came in to see if you wanted a break and would join me on the balcony for some iced tea.”

It was an ideal late summer day with blue skies, temperature in the low eighties and a soft breeze from the water. Harriet’s balcony on the fifth floor of the apartment building looked out over the tops of small cottages to the beach several blocks away and the sparkling blue waters in the background. I was reflecting upon the view when a voice boomed over to us.

“Good afternoon, Harriet. Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

“Hey there Aaron. Yes it is,” she replied.

I looked to the left to the next balcony over to see two men, both relatively tall, one balding and the other with a full head of dark hair with touches of gray at the temples. They both had athletic builds, with the bald man a bit more slender. Both men had bottles of beer in their hands.

“You girls should be out on the beach, rather than in your apartment on such a nice day,” the balding man said. He looked to be in his mid-forties, as did the other man.

“We preparing for our first day of school tomorrow, Aaron,” she said, addressing the balding man.

“Oh, is your friend a teacher, too?”

“Yes, Julie here teaches English and will be assisting me in the drama department, too,” Harriet volunteered.

I acknowledged the introduction by raising my glass of iced tea as if to salute them.

“Julie, you’re much prettier than the English teachers I had in school,” Aaron said, offering what appeared to be a wink. “Maybe if you were my teacher I’d have learned something about dangling modifiers and a few other things.”

“Who’s your friend, Aaron?” Harriet asked, hoping to blunt the man’s obvious flirts.

“Meet George, a colleague of mine,” he said.

George – a strikingly handsome man – nodded in acknowledgement.

“Why don’t you two girls join us? We’re planning a cookout at the park later,” Aaron offered.

“No thanks, Aaron. We’ve got to finish this work here,” Harriet said.

After a few more comments back and forth, we re-entered the apartment to return to our respective work.

“He’s harmless, Julie,” Harriet explained. “He and I have jogged together sometimes and he’s divorced. Really he’s a sweet guy, but he’s not really my type. He likes younger girls like you, anyway. I know we’d have a good time with them, but I don’t think we should today. You agree?”

“Of course,” I said.

It was the right decision to return to our work; yet I couldn’t help but be flattered by the attention I was getting as a young woman.

That night, I did a last check of my emails before heading to bed. Already in my baby doll nightie, I ran through the long list of emails I had received, deleting virtually all of them until I found one from Randy. I was surprised to see it, since I thought we had agreed not to communicate with each other so as not to compromise my budding teaching career. The email’s subject line read: “Congratulations,” and it read:

“Dear Miss Pearson:

“I know I promised not to contact you, but I feel it is important that I send you my congratulations for getting your teaching position.

“Congratulations also for talking about your sex change. That took courage. I saw you on the TV and you were so brave! And so pretty, too.

“I know you will be a successful teacher and only wished I could be in your class as your student. LOL.

“Hope you will remember me. Maybe we can meet again, perhaps in two years.

“Until then I’ll not bother you. You do not need to reply.

“Your friend, Randy.”

I’d like to say I was not affected by his email message, but I would be lying. As I tried to get to sleep that night, memories of his kisses, of his affectionate hugs and of his love-sick looks came flooding back. I tried to block those sweet remembrances from my mind, but even my thoughts of the lovely times I’ve spent with Harriet or with Hank Duke could not overcome my feelings for the husky teenager. Finally, after tossing and turning in the twin bed in Harriet’s guest room, I got up and walked out to the balcony. I sat down and looked at the full moon that was casting its light upon the rippling water beyond the housetops. How badly I wanted to be in Randy’s arms at that moment, sharing the magical scene before me!

Why was I still attracted to this child who was nearly eight years younger than me? It made no sense, did it? Why did it have to be this boy when it appeared I would be having no trouble winning the attention of dozens of men in the future, all more fitting to be my mate? Why this boy, this gorgeous, gorgeous boy?

Perhaps, I mused, it was because Randy was my first experience with love, with passion. He was the first to demonstrate to me what an attractive young woman I was. Oh my dear Randy, how could I not love you? How could I not understand that this passion was to be denied me? My love was a forbidden love. I cried and became chilled in the late night air, finally finding an uneasy sleep.

I decided, wisely, not to reply to Randy’s message. It pained me not to do so, since I wanted to tell the boy how much I appreciated his words. This time I let my common sense and brain override my heart. Randy and I would have to remain apart – at least for two years.

The following morning, we checked with Paul Phillips who reported that the media were still camped out at my residence; they had bothered him steadily as to my whereabouts, but he said he wasn’t bothered by it. “Marian and I enjoy a little excitement in our lives,” he said.

If I was about forty years older – or Paul about forty years younger – and there was no Marian in his life, I could easily fall in love with him, I told Harriet. We all agreed that I would stay with Harriet for Labor Day and leave directly on Tuesday morning from her apartment for school. The day was another beautiful one, forcing me to reflect back to Labor Day in the previous year when I first met Randy, his friend Ryan and Carmen at the Point Pleasant beach; after Randy’s message of the previous night I found it impossible to get the boy out of my mind.

“You seem distracted today, Julie,” Harriet said.

“Oh, it’s nothing. Just worried about starting school tomorrow,” I lied.

“I thought you were pretty well done preparing for your classes,” she said.

“I am. It’s just all this other stuff going on.”

“Let’s get out of here then today and have some fun,” Harriet said, smiling.

“Good idea, but what?”

“The boys next door invited us to join them today. Remember they invited us to go with them to the Gardens?”

I did remember their invitation, but I didn’t think Harriet took the invitation seriously. I didn’t think she was at all interested in Aaron, her friendly neighbor, and I certainly was not interested in George, who might be a hunk of a man, but he was also likely twice my age. Besides, I had no interest in getting involved with another man; my life had become complicated enough already.

“You worried they might hit on you, Julie?” Harriet said when I hesitated at the idea of accepting their invitation.

“I guess,” I admitted.

“I don’t think we have to worry about those two. I’m pretty sure they’re gay. But I know Aaron can be lots of fun and he really is a sweet guy. How about it?”

The Symington Gardens – an immaculately maintained five acres of flower arrangements and art objects housed in the onetime mansion house of a long deceased shipping tycoon – proved to be a perfect antidote for my lovesick reveries. The flowers were still in their late summer bloom and the place was teeming with couples and family groups. Aaron had tapped Harriet as his partner for the day, leaving me with George, who turned out to be a perfectly charming and witty companion. Mercifully, the two men made no suggestive remarks and the day turned into being one of the most enjoyable, light-hearted days of my life.

The four of us shared a wine and cheese treat at the outside patio at the mansion, enjoying the panorama of beauty spread out on the estate. We made for a chic foursome. Aaron and George were dressed almost identically, in beige shorts and polo shirts, Aaron in pink and George in blue. They wore sandals without socks, displaying their trim, well-muscled legs to advantage. Harriet wore light tan Bermuda shorts and a tank top, her strong tanned shoulders and arms exposed. I had on my favorite skater’s dress, a ruffled light blue affair cinched at the waist with a scooped bodice and cap sleeves.

“You’re making all the men in this place today jealous of me,” George said to me as one point.


“Yeah, look how they all examine us, young guys walking and shaking their heads ‘cause you’re with such an old man,” George said.

I blushed. Harriet patted my hand as it rested on the table.

“You’re adorable when you blush,” George said.

To end the day, Harriet invited the two for supper in her apartment. They brought the cocktails and the four of us had a perfectly delightful meal. The wine got to me, though, and I got a bit giddy and really “let my hair down,” as the saying goes. I found a CD of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” put it on Harriet’s player and began prancing around as if I were one of the graceful swans. George got up and tried to take the role of the Prince. He tried to dance with me and we both rather awkwardly fumbled about until we fell in each other’s arms into the sofa, laughing uncontrollably.

“Now that was fun,” George said, getting up and helping me onto my feet.

I tried to kiss him, but he warded me off, saying: “Watch it honey. Aaron will get jealous.”

With that all four of us had a good laugh and Aaron said, “Guess it’s time we go now. Thanks for a lovely day, ladies.”

Fortunately it was still relatively early in the evening when we finished cleaning up Harriet’s apartment, giving me time to sober up and get myself prepared for the next day’s entry into school. The interlude with Aaron and George had been a delightful one; yet, the possible horrors of the next day when I’d return to the school as “Miss Pearson” haunted me. I had no idea what to expect.

(To Be Continued)

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