Age of Bliss
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents
are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to people,
alive or dead, are coincidental.
This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.
Jordan insisted that Martha drive the sports car on the way to the city. She better understood Jordan's driving habits. The slightest pressure on the accelerator and the needle jumped another ten miles per hour. Although Martha attempted to regulate that pressure, she often found that the Healy was in excess of 90 MPH as they traveled down the interstate.
"Isn't it a great feeling?" asked Jordan. "Every woman should own a sports car."
Martha thought about the metaphor and once again eased back on the throttle. "Why?" She asked.
"Why does every woman need to own a sports car? ... So that we can have power that is denied to us elsewhere?"
"I was just thinking about the thrill of it. Isn't it fun? Let go and enjoy the feel of it."
Martha reflected, without increasing speed, before asking, "Then it is a matter of women needing to let go and not of their having power, of being in control?"
Now it was Jordan who pondered for a moment; and, then, she laughed, a soft merry laugh. "It is a paradox! Women don't have much which they can control that also gives them a thrill. Men have the copyright on that form of fun. It ought to be spread around more."
"Huh. I sure don't see 'em giving up any of their power just to be fair about it!"
"So we should be more like them just to balance the scales?"
"Hey, did this car release all of these philosophical powers?"
"Actually, I've been thinking about you. You're a real asset for Bliss, but because you're a woman, you may never get the recognition from the college which you deserve."
"I'm not sure how much recognition I want. Bliss doesn't seem too tolerant when it comes to its women faculty."
"The double standard cuts from both directions."
"Exactly! I'm fearful of equality in acclaim for my accomplishments because I'll never get equality of discretion. And, my sexual preference deserves a hell of a lot more tolerance than Astor's indiscretions!"
"You told me Thursday that I had to be strong. I don't know that I have your strength."
"My god, Woman, you got a Ph.D. at 24! What more proof of strength do you need?"
"I wish it were all as simple as getting a degree. There the rules were all spelled out and they were fair ...."
"And here they're not."
"I don't want to be ruthless or reckless just to survive. If that's what it means to be strong, then I'm not sure I want to be strong."
"I understand," Jordan said and sat silently for several miles before turning toward Martha and continuing, "but, you know, Martha, you are strong. You've survived abuse, which would've been the undoing of most people, and continued to successfully complete a graduate program. You can not withdraw now! Life's a struggle. No one tells us most of the rules and, too often, they aren't fair. What happened to you as a child, you had no control over; but, now you're in a position to control your world and to make a difference in many people's worlds."
Jordan paused and leaned closer to Martha. "It's good you want to play fair, to remain civil, even when our world isn't that way. Still, I ask you to examine the scales which you use in weighing what's fair. Aren't they the scales of your father?" Martha caught her breath. She had never thought about her values in quite that way before. She had been so busy, for so long, simply getting away from his abuse that she had given no thought to how much of his moral system she had adopted or, more relevantly, should adopt. She knew that he was a hypocrite, yet she had accepted, without question, the verities which he preached.
When Martha next looked at Jordan, she had turned back to the road before them. "You know," Jordan reflected, "I wouldn't want acclaim from Bliss' administration anyway. For praise to be meaningful it must come from a respected source. Mason and company are hypocrites. We can't value their adulation ... I think that truly the only source of merit is oneself. ... I'm happy with my work to date. ... Admittedly, I do feed off the respect of my students. ...
"The main thing, it seems to me, is to enjoy life. I don't see you doing enough of that. I hate to see you trap yourself when I don't think anyone else could if you decided not to let 'em."
Martha smiled. "We are out to enjoy today, aren't we. I've really looked forward to this day for a long time." She heard the humming of the engine and checked the speed. She was going 75, only 5 mph over the speed limit. She maintained that speed until they reached the city traffic. There, she found that the car's power turned the usual burdens of urban driving into a pleasurable experience. They arrived at the suburban mall soon thereafter.
They ate sparingly before shopping with plans to enjoy a scrumptious meal later. Jordan made the dinner reservations.
In the dress shops, Martha felt like Cinderella. Jordan laid out selections for her to consider.
She protested that she was limited in how much she could afford, but once the sales personnel learned that she was a new faculty member at Bliss, they each encouraged her to apply for the store's credit card. The applications were all fairly simple, and in most cases, she was informed that credit had been granted before she completed trying on the clothes which Jordan had suggested.
Martha bought more than she had planned to; but she knew that she could use and enjoy everything. Jordan bought two beautiful silk blouses and a long yellow gown for her tour and silver earrings as a present for Martha. In each store, they arranged to have the merchant secure what they bought so as not to be encumbered with the purchases. However, Jordan did insist that Martha wear the earrings.
After shopping, they had time to see American Graffiti before dinner. They enjoyed the movie and the mood stayed with them as they gathered their packages. Jordan was humming Sixteen Candles as they came out of the first store. She stopped humming and Martha looked from Jordan to where she glanced. There stood Markus as if he had been waiting for them.
"So you enjoyed the movie and now you're doing some shopping?"
"What?" Jordan responded as if she had been startled. "Have you been following us?"
"Only since you left the theater. I'm surprised you came out of that store so quickly and with a purchase even."
Jordan smiled and then so did Martha. She let Jordan explain. "We shopped before the movie; we're rushing now to pick up our bounty in order to make our dinner reservations."
"You got a lot to get? Maybe I can help."
"Yes, we do and you can," said Martha. "I bought way more than I intended."
"Really? I thought you were always in control," Markus said as they walked toward the next boutique.
"Don't get your hopes up, my dear boy, she was in complete control; she didn't buy one thing that she doesn't need or couldn't easily afford, and she enjoyed every minute of it."
"Yes, it's true. It's been a wonderful experience! And, Jordan bought herself two absolutely beautiful blouses and this fabulous gown for her concert tour. And, look at what she gave me!"
By now, they were to the next counter and Markus asked Jordan about her tour while Martha secured her purchases.
After the next stop, all three had their hands full and Markus asked, "Is there more?"
"Just a little," Jordan answered.
"Perhaps we best take this on to the car. What'ch you in?"
"Your Austin! How're you going to get all this in that?"
"It can be done. It'll be cramped, but it can be done."
"Well, I could help if you wanted me to. My old Dodge has a big trunk. I could drop the things off at your place tomorrow evening." He looked at Martha.
"I guess that would be okay," Martha said looking to Jordan.
"Sounds fine to me. I'd need to keep my things so as to pack in the morning, but it'd help if he'd take even what we have here."
"It's a done deal then. My "Josie" is just over here. ... I'll call you when I get to Midtown."
Martha enjoyed the dinner that evening. Jordan took her to a restaurant in a large converted country home filled with antiques specific to the USA's frontier days when the home was a comfortable buggy ride from the city. Martha was impressed with the roominess of the place. The atmosphere relaxed her. The food tasted fresh and lightly prepared. The wine complimented the meal.
They discussed the movie. They had both missed that era of Americana. Martha had been too young even if her father would have allowed her to go cruising. Jordan had been in Europe in 1962 on a funded post-baccalaureate tour.
On leaving the restaurant, Jordan asked if Martha wanted to drive.
"Want to? No, I don't really want to. I appreciate the offer, but driving a sports car is your thing. I can't be you. To try would be hypocritical. There's too much of that already. You were right about me and my dad. I do have the values he preached, as opposed to those he practiced. Those values weren't bad just because he was bad. ... In those values are my strength."
"Yes, yes, indeed!" Jordan reached out and touched Martha's shoulder. "It's good to hear you acknowledge your strength, that sounds like growth to me."
"Yes. I think so, too. Thanks." Martha smiled and hugged Jordan's neck. "I'm going to miss you while you're gone, but ... I'll be fine."
"I'm sure you will."
It was a quick trip back to the freeway. Still, Martha found the ride enjoyable. She did not know how much the enjoyment was due to Jordan's adjustment in driving and how much to change within her own self.
As they went sailing down the interstate, the big dinner and the wine, coupled with the humming of the engine, relaxed Martha. She wanted to go to sleep. She hoped that Jordan was not affected in the same way. She examined Jordan's profile. It was focused as always.
Jordan glanced over, "So Markus is coming over tomorrow evening?"
"Just to bring my things."
Jordan laughed. "I bet that's not all he is hoping for."
Martha did not respond for a moment and Jordan continued, "As I said before, he'd make a fine test if you want to give men a try. Perhaps I'm wrong. Is there a spark there?"
"I do like him. ... I enjoy interacting with him in class. ... I appreciate his mind. ..."
"Do you find him handsome? Are you attracted to him?"
"He's still a student of mine. I have to deal with him that way until the quarter's over."
"Sure, sure! Deal with him however you must; but be honest with yourself ... and with me if you want us to be friends."
"I do want us to be friends."
"I want us to be more than friends; but, if that's all you want, I can handle that. I'm not so sure about Markus. I think he has his hopes up. I'd hate to see you lead him down the primrose trail especially if it causes him to abandon his campaign against the college."
"I thought we agreed to disagree about his politics."
"Yes, but you know this goes beyond politics to the personal. You hide in your role as teacher to avoid being open in how you feel toward him. You shouldn't, at the same time, use your role as a teacher to justify encouraging him to abandon his political voice."
Martha felt weary, too weary for this conversation. She felt herself yawn as she responded, "I have his best interests at heart."
"He's a big boy. He can take care of himself."
"Exactly!" Martha heard more irritation in her voice than she wished. She yawned again.
"It's been a long day," Jordan said. "You're tired. Take a nap if you want."
Somehow Martha did not want to go to sleep, but the speeding white strips before them seemed to encourage her eyelids to close. She awoke when the car veered from the interstate at the Middletown exit.
"You're awake," Jordan observed.
"Yes. This car is surprisingly comfortable."
"I hope so. I'm going to cover 2000 miles in it during the next two weeks."
"Yes. I keep repressing the fact that you're leaving."
"It'll give you a chance to get to know Markus better."
"I'm beginning to think you're jealous. Are you worried Markus might just steal my heart?"
Martha thought she could see Jordan frown even in the dim glow of the instrument panel.
"I have both of your interests at heart. If you can make it work, you'd be better off."
Martha touched Jordan's arm. "I know," she said softly. "I appreciate you and your friendship even when I don't agree with you."
"Okay. ... I guess I'll have to let you make your own mistakes."
They rode in silence the remaining distance to Martha's apartment. Martha felt comfortable with the silence. She felt close to Jordan and secure in the warmth of their friendship. Somehow she wanted to express these feeling to Jordan but knew that words were inadequate. "Do you want to come up for awhile?"
"It's late. You had a nap but I didn't. And, I've got lots to do tomorrow."
"Yes. Yes, that's true."
Jordan turned to her and smiled. "Don't look so sad. It's been a fun day and evening. I didn't mean to spoil it with my bickering."
"No, no. I was just thinking how much I value you."
"Well, I'm only gonna be gone for two weeks. It'll be a good two weeks. ... You never know, absence might just make the heart grow fonder."
Martha forced a smile, "Yeah. I guess one never knows."
"As long as you stay open to the possibilities. ... Now, let me go."
Martha was grading papers when Markus called. She took time before he arrived to put away her work and comb her hair.
"Where do you want these, ma'am? Markus asked in an exaggerated porter's voice.
"'Come into my parlor'..."
"'Said the spider to the fly'?"
"Yes. Okay, while you're at it, you might as well bring them on into my bedroom."
"Wow, I never thought I'd get here so fast."
"Oh, you think that you've changed from being my porter, do you?"
"No, ma'am, being your porter is obviously more personal than being your student. I'll hang onto it as long as I can."
"Perhaps I better help with the rest of the things."
"Well, am I going to get a fashion show?" Markus asked as they carried up the remaining packages.
"I think not."
"You think ... not? Don't you wanta show your new stuff off? That's usually what you women want to do first thing."
"You'll see it all as I wear it."
Markus smiled. They had arrived back in her bedroom. "No sneak previews for the porter, ma'am?"
"I think not."
Markus chuckled. "You keep saying that like you're not sure. You want to show 'um off, don't you?"
"I'm anxious to wear them, yes; but, I think it would be best if you saw them when my other students did."
"There you go again. ... 'You think.' I think it'd be fine for you to model what you're going to wear tomorrow since I'm not gonna be in class anyway. After all, I did bring um down here for you and I didn't even peek."
"You're not planning to come to class tomorrow?"
"I have a meeting with Ed Miller in the PR office to discuss the internship."
"And my class period was the only time you two could get together?"
"Somewhat. It's more than an interview. He's going to give me a tour of the office, show me the operation, that kinda thing. I'm gonna spend the morning there and go to lunch with him."
"I see. So that means you're taking the job?"
"Maybe. It doesn't hurt to look at it and hear what they have to say. I wish I thought they wanted me for my talent instead of feeling they're just trying to buy my silence."
"You have considerable talent. They recognize that, surely...."
"Then, I wish I knew they would be reasonable in dealing with the student body ... that they'll let me write like a journalist and not like some lackey for Mason. I sure hope that you are right about them being reasonable."
"I'm sure I am ...."
Markus stepped toward her, prompting her to hesitate. He looked her in the eyes and smiled. "How about you? Are you going to be reasonable?"
"I'm sure I am!"
"Good, then you'll let me see how you're going to look tomorrow."
Martha stepped back but smiled. "You go into the living room and I will. ... I have some colas in the frig, if you want one."
Martha quickly freshened her makeup. She changed her bra for one of her new ones. She found the powder-blue jersey dress from among the packages and clothes now cluttering the bed. It looked better on her than she had remembered; the new bra helped. She slipped on a pair of hose and her one-inch beige heels. Donning the matching Chanel jacket, she was glad that Markus had talked her into this demonstration.
"Wow!" he said from the sofa as she entered. "You're going to knock their eyes out!"
Martha walked in front of him and turned.
"Very nice!" he observed. "What we need here is a little modeling music."
"Sorry, I don't have a stereo."
"We could go back to my place."
"I think not!"
He smiled. "You look too good not to go somewhere."
"You forget. This is my teaching outfit for tomorrow."
"And you look very professional in it."
"Yes, the jacket gives it that air. Without the jacket, it's more causal."
"Well, pull the jacket off and let's go get something to eat," Markus said standing.
"You know we can't do that."
"Now or ever?" he asked as he walked toward her.
"Now," Martha said turning away from him. "I guess one never knows about the 'ever.' We just have to stay open to the possibilities."
"All right! I can live with that. It's only seven more weeks until the term is over. But do let me see how you look without the jacket -- for my dreams."
Martha looked back at his smiling face and removed the jacket. She saw the ardor in his face. She wanted to touch him but checked herself. She paused and caught her breath before saying, "The porter's got his gratuity for all his labors. I'm afraid it's time he let the lady get back to her grading. Seriously, I do appreciate your bringing my stuff down."
"My pleasure, ma'am. I trust we can do it again sometimes?"