Might Have BeenbyTara_Neale©
Note: It is often assumed that in the May/December romances it is the December that seduces the May. But I know from personal experience sometimes it is the fresh, boldness of May against which December finds itself succombing. When your life is as cold and barren as winter then you can easily fall under the spell of springs warm rays. This is such an unusual story. Hope you enjoy.
Jeannette Reynolds inhaled deeply the stifling Southern California heat of early afternoon. Tossing the scant leftovers from her organic lunch to the pigeons on the brownish-green grass that was developing a noticeable crunch when you tread upon it, she wondered for perhaps the hundredth time that day alone if she had perhaps completely lost her mind.
At forty-five, she was certain she was the oldest student on the Cal State Long Beach campus. Oh, the woman in admissions had tried to convince her that given the difficult economy, there was a growing number of what they politely called 'adult learners.' But on this her first morning in higher education, she had yet to see a single grey hair or wrinkle on the hundreds of care-free young faces that filled the lecture halls and traversed the manicured lawns of the bustling campus.
What had she been thinking giving up her real estate career for early retirement and returning for the college degree that she had put on hold more than a quarter of a century before when she had become pregnant with her son? The next fifteen years had been filled with dirty diapers, Little League, church dinners and more than a tad of emotional and the occasional physical abuse at the hands of her preacher husband. She had felt trapped. With little in the way of education or experience and two teenage children, she had felt she had no other choice than to endure her lot in life.
Until the evening when she had walked into the Sunday school room to see her husband's fat, naked body pumping away at the lithe young body of, as cliché as it sounded, the church secretary. In that single moment, she had found the courage that she had sought for years in religion. She had walked out of the small white clapboard church and never looked back.
Before he could even dress and return to their split-level four bedroom house a couple of miles down the bumpy country road, she had packed her compact Dodge Neon with clothes, gadgets to entertain the children and her old computer. A quick stop at the bank had provided her enough cash for gas, food and the night's lodging. Without a word of explanation to her son and daughter, they had spent the night in a hotel in town.
The next morning she was waiting when the bank opened at nine. She knew she had precious little time to do what she must before her pious husband would begin to cover his devious tracks with lies and untruths. Smiling weakly at the bank manager she had explained that her mother had fallen and broken her hip. She and the children needed to go back east to help out for a bit.
The tears were real enough as she passed the withdrawal slip with her trembling hands. Three-thousand four-hundred and fifty dollars would virtually clear out the joint account, but it seemed a paltry offering to begin a new life with two teenagers. But it would have to do.
Her smile had been much broader as they drove away from the dry heat of that small Texas town. She had even caught a glimpse of her husband of over fifteen years as he strode confidently towards the double doors of the bank. Too bad that he would soon discover he was too late to protect his tiny personal fortune. But Jeannette was not too worried because she knew about the secret account that held the money he had syphoned off the weekly offering for the past two years.
While everything else in her life might be uncertain in that moment, her destination was not, Los Angeles, California. LA. It had been the one place that had captured her imagination for as long as she could remember. Whether it was Corbin Bernsen in LA Law or a young Julia Roberts starring as a prostitute in Hollywood, the land of dreams, it was the one place that Jeannette had always dreamt of living.
After three days of unrelenting heat crossing the desert along Interstate 10 and an outrageous repair bill when the temperature gage in her car had gotten stuck, she finally reached the outskirts of the Valley with barely two thousand dollars to her name. She had followed the highway to the very point where it ended in a stretch of white sand beaches plummeted by the cold, brownish waves of the Pacific Ocean. She had reluctantly paid the five dollars it cost to park.
She had opened the doors of her dusty car and pronounced, "We're here" to the two groggy faces that stared at her from the back seat. Her oldest had simply looked around at the waves breaking on the shore and shrugged. With the adventurous spirit that not even his father's belt had been able to beat out of him, he had stretched and without a single question stepped from the car and headed towards the water.
Her more obedient twelve year old daughter on the hand had yet again demand, "What are we doing here? Where is here? Where is daddy? You know he is going to be real mad at you for this stupid stunt."
Jeannette though was exhausted and for the moment more than a little shaken at the uncertainty that stretched out before her. She had simply left the young girl sitting in the back seat with her questions unanswered as she walked over and sat down on the stone wall that bordered the beach.
For the next couple of hours, Jeannette had alternated between hope as she watched her son dance carefree in the waves. He had even made a new friend and managed to briefly borrow a surf board. She had been about to run madly into the crashing waves under which he had disappeared when his laughing face broke the surface.
But it was the weight of uncertainty that bore upon her small shoulders when she watched as her daughter finally emerged from the back seat of the car. She slowly walked across the hot pavement to sit silently next to her mother. When she finally spoke a few moments later, it was as prophetic in that moment as it was now almost a decade later, "Mommy, what are we going to do?"
With almost the same trepidation that she had felt on that beach all those years ago, Jeannette grabbed her backpack and headed across the campus to her next class, Society and Taboo.
Trevor Williams smiled as he watched the influx of humanity begin to fill the lecture hall that represented the culmination of one of his dreams. At the age of twenty-nine, he had managed to secure a tenure track assistant professorship at the university. Although CSULB as it was affectionately known held far less prestige than UCLA, Harvard and Oxford that had been his intellectual playground for the past ten years, he was content enough with the life choices that brought him to this place. Especially when he had seen her name, Jeannette Reynolds.
It was a name that held almost magical powers for the nineteen year old boy that he had once been. He supposed in a city the size of Los Angeles it was too much to hope that it would actually be her. After all, it had been over ten years since that one fascinating evening they had shared.
Over the past decade, his mind often wondered what might have been. His dark face scanned the crowd as he began the speech he had carefully practiced for the past three days. It would set the tone for this class and perhaps even his future.
"Good afternoon. For those of you wondering if this is the correct class. From a practical stand point, yes, this is Society and Taboo. But from a philosophical one, perhaps not."
Pausing, he took in the shades of different skin tones that boasted of the regions multi-cultural diversity. "Due to health and personal issues, Doctor Myers has retired." He waited a moment as this news sank in and the ensuing questions were clearly reflected upon the sea of young faces.
Beginning again slowly, "I am Trevor Williams. Doctor Trevor Williams, but you can call me Trev. I realize that I may not look much older than most of you, but I assure you my academic and life experience is more than sufficient for this post."
Then he caught sight of her. On the far right of the room half way up the raised dais of uncomfortable theater-style seats. It might have been a decade since he had last seen that face, but the changes were barely noticeable. Those intelligent, blue eyes were fixed to his dark face listening intently as she had that night as he droned on and on about every imaginable societal ill. He had been young and full of himself then.
Looking unblinkingly into her blue eyes, he summarised the past decade. "I have lived in London and travelled both Western and Eastern Europe. I have done a two year stint in the Peace Corps in Africa. I have studied some of the last remaining hunter and gatherer societies in the Amazon. And the more I learned, the less I knew."
Pulling his dark eyes away from hers, he walked back to the lectern. "So if you are here because you heard this course was an 'easy' grade, then to paraphrase a great modern philosopher," using vernacular common to his youth, he did his best Chris Rock imitation. "Dis ain't de class for you."
With his back to the class, he fiddled with the laptop and remote control for the projector. He waited longer than it actually took to allow an exodus of those wishing to escape uncertain fates. He refused to look up even though curiosity was burning in his soul. He knew that unlike the dozens of feet he heard rapidly escaping their academic demise if she left it would be far more than the challenge of demanding studies and academic excellence.
It would be the same fear that had sent her running ten years before, that kept her from returning his calls, emails and instant messages. Fear of the very taboos, which this class debated among others...race and age.
Stale air hung in Jeanette's lungs. It could not be. The confident, polished man that stood before her simply could not be that Trevor Williams. But even with his back turned, she could remember each line and plane of his handsome face. It was not that hard to do considering she saw a younger and slightly lighter version of it at the breakfast table each morning and bent over her I Pad most of the rest of the time.
She forced herself to swallow, to draw oxygen deep into her burning lungs. She watched as dozens of students emptied the lecture hall. If she were smart, she would join them. But she needed this class, it fit perfectly with her schedule and was a great choice as an elective for her degree in Psychology.
Besides one thing that Jeanette Reynolds had not done in a decade was run. Not since that first summer, when her whole world had collapsed in upon her, been turned upside down and then miraculously righted itself. Although she had applied for her divorce under the domestic violence protections that would allow her whereabouts to remain private, her ex-husband had somehow found them. He had succeeded in his legal rang lings, forcing her to allow him unsupervised summer visitation.
She had been at loose ends that summer. Even her job as the Executive Assistant at the real estate firm and the classes she was taking to get her own realtors license left her with too much time on her own. At one of her friends urging she had created a profile on a popular dating site. As the woman joked, dating was trading a kiss for dinner and movie. She had chatted with dozens of men, but none really appealed to her that much.
Except him. From the moment she had read his first email, she was captivated by his humor and intelligence. They had exchanged emails for three weeks. She had been more than reluctant to actually meet, but her friend simply would not let up. In desperation, she had agreed to dinner and a movie. They had agreed to meet at her favorite café, just blocks from her home in Long Beach. She had almost walked right out when she discovered that her 'date' was not much older than her beloved son. But he had been a smooth talker and by the end of the evening, she was thoroughly charmed and captivated. Too much so. When she learned that he had taken trains and buses to get to their date, she had insisted that he allow her to drive him back to the UCLA campus.
She smiled as he made a point about the nature of society as a parent to all its children. Many times over the past few years she had wondered if it was not he who manipulated her that night. When they arrived, he had insisted that she have a late night coffee with him in his dorm room. More of the titillating conversation ensued as she found herself discussing not just religious theory with him but her own experiences. He had held her as she allowed the tears to flow for the first time since that day. They had in fact ended up in his bed.
She had snuck out just before dawn. Her mind was in utter chaos that all that had happened that night. But things only got worse when she arrived home. There were over two dozen frantic messages from her ex-husband. He knew what a whore and Jezebel she had become. If she did not return to his side and her place as a godly wife, he would sacrifice their children to atone for her sins.
There was a ticket waiting at LAX for the noon flight to Dallas. They would meet her at the airport. And if she was not there, if she got the police involved then the children must pay for the sins of their mother, the Bible said so. She had not known what else to do so she did not even bother packing a bag, merely drove to the airport and parked her car.
Little of the next week was clear to her, even now. He had kept her and the children drugged much of the time, which was a blessing given her sketchy memories of the beatings and rapes that he deemed necessary to purge her of her sins. Then it was over in a blood bath. Her husband was dead. Her son was gravely injured and her daughter delusional. She had been arrested for the murder and attempted murder of both her children.
It was not until her son came around a week later that the truth came out. Rachel had killed her father when he had ripped her clothes from her body calling her daughter of Jezebel and told her that she must be purged just like her whore mother. Gideon had struggled with his father, allowing his sister to escape. But the man had thrown him across the room, cracking his head open on a table and breaking his back in the fall. The girl had reached the tiny kitchenette and grabbed a butcher knife. When he found her there, she threatened him with it. He had died when he lunged for it. They might have all died if the hotel manager had not called the police when he heard the ruckus.
As it was, the police had seen the dead man, found the unconscious young man and the catatonic girl rocking back and forth in a corner of the room. Then Jeanette had come stumbling from the bedroom. Looking back, she realized that she must have appeared drunk in her condition. But to the police it made perfect sense, she had killed her husband, injured her son when he tried to save his father and it had all been too much for the young woman. Jeanette's own memories of those days were so fuzzy that she really could not say that it had not happened that way. She simply did not remember anything.
When the police had learned the truth, she had been released. They would have to stay in Texas for the rest of that summer. Her son needed weeks of physical therapy. He would never walk again. As for Rachel, the girl's mind was more fractured than her brother's back. Jeanette had spent weeks in therapy trying to come to terms with it all.
But only one thing made sense to her, they did not belong in this place. None of them would ever get better if they stayed here. They had rebuilt their lives once in California and they would again.
As soon as she could, she checked both her children out of the hospital and with the insurance money from her husband's death, she had taken them all home to Long Beach. Their old apartment was gone but that was all right. They needed a completely fresh start and a place that was fitted for Gideon's wheel chair. They had found a ground floor apartment right on the beach. The owner was a disabled veteran, who was moving in with his girlfriend.
The move had been the right choice. Not that it was easy. Gideon had struggled with depression until their therapist suggested he check out the local wheelchair basketball team. As for Rachel, her daughter still would not talk. To anyone.
Then one morning Jeanette had woken up sick to her stomach, she dismissed it as a simple flu bug. But when it continued for two weeks she had finally worked up the courage to purchase the home pregnancy test. Her hands had trembled as she stared at the two blue lines. It was the last thing she thought she could handle. After weeks of abuse at the hands of her ex, she was certain that it was his child that she carried and it turned her stomach.
She scheduled an abortion for the next week, but she made the mistake of looking up at the ultrasound screen while doctors tried to date her pregnancy. What she saw there was more than a blob of cells. It was a baby. Her baby and she would be no better than he had been if she made it pay for the sins of its father. She walked from the clinic uncertain what she would do but determined on one thing. Jeanette Reynolds was through running. She was determined to stand and fight. For her son. For her daughter's sanity. And yes, for this baby too.
She had used her pregnancy and Gideon's recovery time as a chance to study for the realtor's exam. She had passed it just a week before she went into labor. After weeks spent in hospitals, she had not wanted her child's life to begin there so she had opted for a midwife to deliver her baby at home. Of course, they had all been surprised when Hope had come out with her soft dark brown curls and over the space of the next week her skin began to darken. After the horrors of her rape and the children's plights, Jeanette had all but forgotten her brief moment with the boy genius as she thought fondly of him.
At first Jeanette had worried that Hope would bring more questions and strife with her traumatized children, but those fears were dispelled the next morning when she woke up to find the baby gone from her bed. She panicked and ran from the room to find Rachel holding her sister and singing quietly to the child. Singing soon turned to talking as tears ran down her older daughter's face. They were all relieved that the baby was not her ex's, they never even asked who the father was.
As the class came to an end, she rose with the other students to exit the room. She felt an intense pair of eyes upon her, then, "Excuse me, Miss Reynolds, may I have a word with you?" Her heart froze as she came face-to-face with her past.
Trev watched as the woman approached. Her head was held high, her eyes stared start into his. But every muscle in her body was tight. Each step calculated and forced. He rethought his decision to confront the issue, but that was not his style. He built his life and his career on confronting things that made people uncomfortable. This should be no different.
"Yes, Mister Williams," she replied in clipped words.
"Trev, I asked everyone to call me Trev," he said as the years floated away. This woman was every bit as magnificent as she had been that night.
Trevor had always been attracted to older women, in a time when the word cougar was not even thought of. His first real crush had been his kindergarten teacher, but he supposed that was normal enough. It was not so normal for a teenager to date his guidance counsellor, but he had. He chuckled, wondering if perhaps his love of older white women had been his own rebellion just a guns and gangs had been his peers. But whatever the reason by the time, he had met the timid, former preacher's wife, he had seduced half a dozen.