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Author’s Note 1: Although ratings are nice, nothing beats a comment or two about what you liked or disliked about a story. Please take a moment to leave one. Thank you.
Author’s Note 2: Inspired by my original story, “The Freshman”, which first appeared back in 2000.
‘4W10 … 4W11 … 4W13, wait a second, what happened to 4W12?’ Susan York asked as she again glanced down at the class schedule in her hand to confirm the room number she was looking for.
Later, she would learn that 4W12 had long ago been combined with 4W11, but that wasn’t her immediate concern. Her next class started in five minutes, and the short haired blonde had seriously miscalculated how long it would take to get to Hancock Hall from the building her previous class had been in on the other side of campus. Today was her first day at Haywood Community College, and it had proved an overwhelming kaleidoscope of sights and sounds.
It had been nearly impossible to sleep last night, and even the simplest decisions seemed to take on overwhelming significance. Just picking out what to wear today had taken her nearly an hour, finally deciding on a simple yellow blouse and blue slacks. A choice she had second thoughts about, come the morning. In truth, it was more than her choice of garment that she was having doubts over; it was the idea of returning to school itself.
‘It’s just nerves,’ Susan assured herself as she came to a stop in front of her goal, room 4W16, ‘every new student probably goes through this.’
As Susan stepped through the open door, she tried not to think about what she’d left out of her self-assurance — the simple fact that few if any of her classmates were a few months shy of their forty-ninth birthday.
The clock on the wall showed she’d made it with a few minutes to spare, and Susan quickly sat herself down in the first empty seat she saw. Pulling a small notebook and pen from her carry bag, the older woman focused her attention on the professor in the front of the room as he finished up writing something on the blackboard. She didn’t need to look to know that a number of eyes were on her, just as they had been in her previous two classes. In one of them, in which she’d arrived a good ten minutes early, the students had initially mistaken her for their instructor.
Their curiosity was understandable, and Susan could only hope it would prove short-lived. It was going to be hard enough fitting in without constantly being reminded that the last time she’d been in a classroom had been before any of them had been born.
That hadn’t been the original plan, of course, especially since her grades in high school had been good enough to be accepted at her first choice school, the University of California, Berkeley. It had been a dream come true, but, as someone far more articulate than Susan had written, life was what happens when you’re busy making other plans. And what had happened was an unplanned pregnancy during the latter half of her first year.
That year being 1967, it had been understood without question that the nineteen year old would drop out of school and marry the father of her child. As bad as the situation was, Susan had it better than many girls in similar predicaments. She had known Stephen York since practically kindergarten, and while they’d only begun officially dating during the last years of high school, no one raised an eyebrow when the two unexpectedly rushed to the altar. Not even when Jack York made his appearance seven and a half months later. Another son, and daughter soon followed, along with nearly three decades of happy married life, a union only broken by the unexpected death of her husband.
At forty-six, Susan had found herself a widow with three grown children, the oldest two married with kids of their own, making her a grandmother as well. Having grown up working in the family lumber business that had been started by his grandfather, Jack had easily stepped in to take up the reins of the company she now owned. While not as capable as his older sibling, Brian, her middle child, also found his place at the firm. Diane, on the other hand, declined a place working alongside her brothers, instead taking a variety of jobs since finishing school.
About a month ago, Susan had casually mentioned to her daughter that she was bored. Between the company’s continued success and the substantial life insurance that Stephen had left her, she had no need to work, but there had to be something more constructive she could do with her time than simply be one of the ‘ladies who lunch’.
What she had been looking for from her youngest and in many ways closest child, was some suggestion about where she might volunteer her time. Diana, however, felt she had a better idea. Two days after their chat, Susan came home to find an information booklet about adult education at the local community college, along with a half filled out application waiting for her on the kitchen table.
“College, seriously?” Susan had asked her.
“Why not?” Diane replied. şişli escort “You’ve often said that not finishing school was one of your few regrets in life, so, now that you have the time, why not fix that?”
“I’ve never regretted having you and your brothers,” Susan immediately said, taking the comment as a suggestion of such.
“I’ve never thought that for a moment,” Diane replied just as quickly. “You did a fantastic job raising us, but don’t you think it’s time that you did something just for you?”
“Don’t you think I’m a little old for this?” Susan offered, holding up the brochure, she drew attention to the photo of students on its cover, all less than half her age.
“Aren’t you the one who always says, never stop learning?” Diane asked in turn. “That life was meant to be a constant exploration of new experiences?”
“You really think this is a good idea?” Susan asked after thinking about it a bit more, thumbing through the booklet as she did.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Diane replied. “Just take two or three classes in anything you find interesting, just enough to get a feel for things. If it turns out to be not for you, well then, all we’ve lost is a bit of tuition. Which, I’ll also point out, wouldn’t be all that much, because they have a special rate for older people returning to school.”
“And you don’t think I’d be out of place?” Susan further asked, again glancing at the photo on the cover.
“I checked, and there are more people your age taking advantage of the program than you might imagine,” Diane said. “Some of them might even be in your classes. So, no, I don’t think you’d be out of place.”
Susan didn’t immediately reply but didn’t raise any further objection either.
“Who knows, maybe you’ll meet some cute guys,” Diane tossed out there. “As I recall, colleges are usually full of them.”
“Diane Alexandra!” Susan exclaimed, adding the middle name that usually made an appearance when she wanted to emphasize a point. “I’m old enough to be … well, I am your mother.”
“And far too young to be fitted out for a rocking chair out on the porch,” Diane countered. “I know how many men have asked you out since Dad passed, all of whom you’ve turned down.”
“They’re not your father,” Susan said.
“No, and no one else ever will be,” Diane added, “but that doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to put on a widow’s shroud and be celibate the rest of your life. Jack and Brian agree with me, and I know Dad wouldn’t have wanted that for you either.”
It was hardly a secret to their children, especially Diane who had occupied the bedroom adjacent to her parents, that time’s passage had done little to diminish their sex life. In fact, as soon as her brothers moved out, she’d relocated to the first-floor bedroom they’d occupied. The then nineteen year old thought it great that her parents still shared a physical love, but that didn’t mean she needed a front row seat to it.
But Diane’s point had been made. If nothing else, taking a few college classes would introduce her to new people, people who hadn’t been part of her and Stephen’s circle. They’d filled out the rest of the applications and chosen a few electives the next day.
The professor introduced himself as Robert Longstreet and welcomed them all to American History 101 — Post War America 1945-1965. As he went over the syllabus for the semester, Susan took capacious notes, thinking as he outlined topics for discussion that she was sure to have a different take on many of them than her fellow students. After all, to her, many of the things the professor mentioned had been things she’d lived through, not just something written down in a text book.
As the class drew to a close, Susan waited until the rush of students heading off to their next class subsided. She was done for the day and saw no need to rush. She took a few moments to review the notes she had taken during the class, her focus on the hastily scribbled lines in front of her causing her not to notice that someone had stopped by her seat.
“Excuse me, but are you really a student in this class?” a voice asked from just behind her.
Susan turned to find an attractive woman with short cropped gray hair, dressed in a long-sleeved white blouse and a pair of jeans. Slightly taller than her own five six, she looked to be close to her own age, with a well-developed form and a warm smile. In her rush to take a seat, Susan had failed to notice the older woman when she’d first entered the room.
“Yes, I’m really a student,” Susan said in a slightly defensive tone. It had been a question she’d been asked at least once in both of her prior classes.
“I only ask because sometimes they have faculty members audit a professor’s class, especially when they’re coming up for tenure,” the woman said, her own tone as apologetic as Susan’s had been defensive.
“Today is actually my first day,” Susan said, the woman’s demeanor putting her more at ease, “at least here at Haywood.”
“Well, taksim escort it’s nice to have someone else in class that doesn’t see the subject matter as ancient history,” the woman quipped as she extended her hand. “I’m Joyce Bailey, by the way, but most people just call me Bailey.”
“Susan York,” the blonde replied, reaching out to take her hand. “My friends call me Sue.”
“That’s a lovely name, it suits you,” Bailey noted, pausing for a moment before explaining why she had asked Susan if she was really a student.
History, she said, was never her best subject, which was one of the reasons she had put off taking the requirement until her final semester. As she was listening to Professor Longstreet outline the syllabus, it occurred to her that it might not be a bad idea to find a study partner for the class.
“Study partner?” Susan repeated.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of reading to do in this course and I figured it would be a lot easier if I had a partner,” Bailey went on, “and from the way you were taking notes, I figured you might be a good one.”
Susan hadn’t considered the idea but it did make sense.
“So, what do you say?” Bailey asked.
“Why don’t we get a cup of coffee and talk about it?” Susan suggested. “That is, if you don’t have another class or somewhere else you need to be.”
“I’m all yours,” Bailey smiled.
As they exited the classroom and made their way over to the Student Union, Susan felt that she might just have made a new friend. Not a bad start for her first day of school.
Bailey, as it turned out, was actually four years older than Susan. Having taken early retirement from a large corporation where she’d handled the travel office, she was taking business courses with the idea of opening a small agency of her own. She’d never married, saying she valued her independence too much, but she did occasionally date, although there was no one special in her life at the moment.
Close enough in age and experience to easily find common ground, the two not only became study partners but fast friends. By the time the term’s first quarter ended, Susan and Bailey were listed as fourth and ninth in the class standings, a most respectable showing, and as even more time progressed, Bailey became a familiar dinner guest at the York home.
Midterm exams appeared on the horizon before they knew it, and Professor Longstreet lived up to his reputation as one of the toughest graders on campus. When the grades were posted, only a third of the students still in the class had passed, but of those few, Susan and Bailey had scored, respectively, the eighth and tenth highest grades.
“We need to go out and celebrate,” Bailey said to Susan after she’d read the posted grades over the phone to her. “A bunch of us are getting together tonight at the Blue Goose for drinks and such.”
That was one thing that Susan really envied about Bailey, her ability to so easily fit in with their younger classmates. Then again, she had spent the last thirty years working in a multi-generational environment, whereas Susan, as a homemaker, pretty much only interacted with her peers.
“I’m afraid my celebrating days are a bit behind me,” Susan said as, with exam week now over, she could only imagine the wild partying that would be going on. “You go and have fun and tell me all about it another day.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t really enjoy it without you,” Bailey insisted. “Especially since I’d have never passed that test without your help.”
“Well, I could say the same for the help you gave me in English Lit,” Susan replied, thinking that had been even more impressive, seeing that Bailey had taken that class a year before. “No, you go and party with the others.”
There was a long moment of silence, long enough for Susan to think they might have been disconnected. Then, just as she was going to ask Bailey if she was still there, her voice came back on the line.
“I just had a better idea,” she heard Bailey say. “Let’s forget about the Blue Goose and you and I can do something to celebrate. I know, I could take you out to dinner. That’s the least I can do, considering how many times you’ve fed me this term.”
“Well,” Susan said hesitantly, “I guess that would be all right, as long as you don’t pick somewhere too fancy.”
“How about we go to Romano’s?” Bailey suggested, adding before Susan could say yes or no, “I’ve heard that’s really nice.”
Romano’s, Susan well knew, was indeed a nice place as she’d eaten there many times. It was also not exactly inexpensive, but she figured she could offer to cover her half of the bill if it got too out of hand.
“Well, it is a bit of a short notice,” Susan mused as if she was still undecided, “but I guess tonight would be fine. Although now that I think of it, getting reservations this late on a Friday might be a problem. I’ll tell you what, why don’t you let me call and make them. I know the owner and I’m sure he’ll fit us in.”
Bailey quickly agreed and beşiktaş escort that pleased Susan.
“You’re going out?” Diane asked as, stepping into the kitchen, she heard her mother on the phone with the owner of Romano’s.
“Why yes,” Susan replied as she hung up the phone.
“Like on a date?” Diane further inquired, surprise in her voice.
“No, not on a date,” Susan laughed. “Bailey wants to take me out to dinner to thank me for helping her pass the history midterm.”
“And it’s not a date?” Diane repeated.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Susan asked, a little confused at the question.
“I’m just wondering if dinner was all she had in mind, that’s all,” Diane answered.
A look of confusion was Susan’s only response.
“Oh, come on, Mom,” Diane said as she sat down in the adjacent chair, “you can’t tell me you haven’t noticed the way she looks at you?”
“What are you talking about?” Susan asked, an even more puzzled expression on her face.
“You know,” Diane insisted.
“No, I don’t know,” Susan replied, “and if you’re trying to say something, I wish you’d just come out and say it.”
“Wait a second, you’re telling me that you really don’t know? I mean, how could you not?” Diane said, her tone changing from semi-whimsical to serious.
“What are you talking about?” Susan asked again.
“Mom, I’m fairly certain that Bailey is gay,” Diane stated in a definitive tone.
“What would make you say something like that?” Susan said. “Just because she’s never been married …”
“It’s a lot more than just that,” Diane interrupted. “For one thing, take a minute and think about all those vacation stories that she’s told over dinner. Didn’t you find them just a little unusual?”
“Just that she seemed to take a lot of them,” Susan replied, “but that’s understandable, given that she worked in her company’s travel office. She probably knows how to get all the best deals.”
“I’m not talking about the frequency as much as the destinations,” Diane clarified. “Most of the places she talked about are pretty romantic spots, and she never seemed to go to any of them with a guy, just girlfriends.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Susan pointed out, in a tone that even she had to admit lacked conviction.
“And there are other things I’ve picked up on,” the younger woman added. “Small things to be sure, but when you take them together, they do add up.”
“What sort of things?” Susan inquired.
“It’d be too hard to explain, but let’s just say that Bailey wouldn’t be the first lesbian I’d met,” Diane said after a long moment’s pause.
The look on Diane’s face gave Susan pause. They’d always had frank discussions about sex, but most of the talks usually centered around Diane knowing what she needed to make well informed decisions. Over the years, Diane had what seemed to be a few serious boyfriends, but as curious as Susan might have been at times, the specifics of who Diane slept with had rarely been part of the conversation.
“Even if it were true, what difference does it make?” Susan finally said. “Your Uncle Barry is gay, he’s lived with another man for over twenty years, and I’ve never not welcomed both of them at our table.”
“Cousin Barry never asked you out to dinner,” Diane pointed out. “And I’m not saying that it makes any difference. I just thought you should be aware of it in case she sees it as something else.”
“She asked me out as a friend,” Susan insisted.
“Okay, if you say so,” Diane grinned, “but just in case, I’ll be sure to knock before I wake you up in the morning.”
“Will you be serious?” Susan protested.
“I am being serious,” Diane countered, “and for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.”
“I’m a grandmother, for goodness’ sake,” Susan added in the same tone.
“And we’ve had this conversation before,” Diane replied, a broad smile on her face. “And I also think it says a lot that age was the first thing that came to your mind, and not the fact that you’re both women.”
“I’m not looking for a husband, or a wife, or whatever you would call it,” Susan said.
“No one said you were,” Diane continued to smile. “I’m just saying that there’s nothing wrong with you having a little fun. Who you have it with is no one’s business but your own.”
“Maybe I should just cancel dinner,” Susan said.
“You can’t do that,” Diane said, “it wouldn’t be fair to Bailey. Look, maybe I’m totally wrong about all of this. But it’s been so long since I’ve seen you enjoying anyone’s company that I thought … well, I’m not sure what I thought.”
Susan agreed not to cancel the dinner, but even after her daughter had left her alone, she sat there having a cup of coffee and wondered if she’d made the right decision. She never talked about it, but there was a reason why her first reaction to the idea that Bailey might be interested in her was the age difference and not her gender. If something were to actually happen between the two of them, it wouldn’t be her first sapphic experience.
She had never told anyone, not even her husband, but during that first and only semester at Berkeley, Susan had developed a friendship with an upperclasswoman named Ruth Hensley. A friendship that, by the time spring break rolled around, had become physical.
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