Most of my writing is boring research papers and committee reports. This is my first effort at erotic fiction. It is long, and there is very little sex until Chapter 6, but I felt it was necessary to chronicle the two protagonists' semester-long journey of discovery. Comments are welcome.
I'm Dan Jackson. My story begins about a year and a half ago, on a Monday which was the first day of classes for the spring semester at Eastern State University. My department head, Bob Mayer, e-mailed me asking if I could drop by his office before the end of the day. I was hesitant. I thought he was going to ask me to teach an overload, like he did the semester before. But it turned out he had something very different in mind.
"Thanks for stopping by, Dan," Bob began. "Please have a seat."
I did. He got right to the point. "Dan, before Christmas you talked about maybe taking a sabbatical."
I nodded. I was in my 21st year at Eastern, in the Department of Finance. I didn't have a doctorate -- long story -- but I had worked hard to build my reputation as an excellent classroom teacher. Twice I had been voted outstanding teacher for the entire university. I also did a lot of work in curriculum development and chaired the College of Business curriculum committee for several years. When our accrediting agency insisted that Eastern identify exactly what students were expected to learn in each and every course -- "learning outcomes," they called it -- I was chair of the university task force that dealt with drawing those up. That was just last year and the new President had been most pleased. But after putting in so much concentrated work on that project, I was admittedly a bit burnt out. Plus the kids were both in college now and for the first time in years I could think seriously about taking some time away. I slipped into a reverie. Maybe a year in New England where I had studied. Maybe the Pacific Northwest.
Bob's voice jolted me back to the present. "I have a possibility you might want to think about. You know how the president is always talking about building up Eastern's international linkages." Indeed I did. He was in the habit of slipping some reference to "Eastern's place in a globalized world" into almost every speech.
"Well, it seems like he's made a contact at a place called the Kazakhstan Business School. It's a brand new institution, just starting up its BBA program. Next year it will have freshmen and sophomores. They want to bring in three visiting faculty this coming fall for a semester to work on developing the upper-level curricula. Someone to review the course outlines, and flesh out the reading lists, and suggest relevant case studies, and other things like this learning outcomes crap." He grimaced. "Yeah, that's an issue over there too. Anyway you'd teach two courses, that's half their full-time load. They're going to start with concentrations in Accounting, Finance, and HR. I know they want someone from the UK to look at Accounting. I think they have someone from California for HR. But they need a person to look at Finance. I heard this from Carol last Friday and my first thought was you." Carol Lawrence was the Dean of the college. "Any chance you might be interested?"
"Well, it's not something I would have thought of," I said, a bit puzzled. I knew little about Kazakhstan other than it had become independent after the break-up of the Soviet Union, and that Russian space missions took off from there. "I'll need to do a bit of research, and talk to Terri of course." Terri was my wife, also at Eastern, a professor of English. Then a thought. "They do teach in English, right?" I could manage in French, but I'd be lost in Russian or Kazakh or whatever the native language was.
"Yes, of course," Bob replied, chuckling a little. "They wouldn't expect you to learn Russian before you came. But it sounds almost tailor-made for you, Dan. Go ahead and take your time, but do think about it. I'll make sure Carol's on board if you decide to go with it."
"Thanks, Bob, I appreciate it. Give me a week or so and I'll let you know."
I walked back to my office deep in thought. I had never considered working overseas. Except for co-teaching a short executive education course in England several years ago I had never spent much time outside the US and Canada. But with an empty nest now, maybe this was a good chance to diversify my experiences a bit. I spent a lot of time on the Web over the next few days, researching both the school and the country. I was very encouraged by what I learned, and by Thursday I had resolved to myself that a stint at KBS, as it was called, would be a very interesting, worthwhile way to spend a sabbatical semester.
Now came the hard part, convincing Terri to go with me. I had my doubts. Terri was one of Eastern's research stars. She gave papers at quite a few conferences and was well-known in her field, which was contemporary American literature. She had traveled to Europe and a couple of times to South America, but like me she hadn't spent any length of time overseas. I knew her schedule was booked months in advance, what with the lead time conference organizers needed. But I hoped she would see the value of a change in scenery, and put her work on hold for a few months so we could enjoy this adventure together.
What I couldn't tell her is that I also thought a change of scenery might add spice to our sexual relationship. When we had met and married in graduate school, our youthful passion had covered up the fact that Terri, in particular, was not very adventurous in bed. But over time, with the kids and the workloads and the take-your-partner-for-granted familiarity that affects most marriages, the passion had subsided, and the unadventurousness had taken over. I could guess well ahead of time what our love-making routine would be any particular week (and yes, it was at most once a week now). Undress. Get into bed. Fondle her breasts, roll the nipples between my fingers, nibble them a bit. Go down on her -- I knew exactly how she liked it, and sucking gently on her clit always got her off. Enter her, me on top, thrust a while with her wriggling under me to encourage me, explode inside her. Cuddle a bit in the afterglow. Fall asleep. On occasion she would give me oral before I fucked her, or I would take her doggie style. Like I said, pretty standard stuff.
It's not that it wasn't enjoyable -- it was. She had kept her figure pretty well and I still relished the sight of her naked body. But the whole process had become routine, bordering on mechanical. After our son Steven left for college in August I had cautiously suggested we try some different things. Lingerie, which she scarcely ever wore. New locations -- the living room couch, the bathtub, even the kitchen table (just the right height to lay Terri on and enter her standing up). She not only turned them down flat, but gave the distinct impression that I was some kind of pervert for even mentioning them. After a few weeks I gave up. Now I was hoping that if we were somewhere different, with new experiences at every turn, she would loosen up a bit and welcome new sexual experiences as well.
My hope was dashed when I brought up the subject at dinner that night. "This fall!" she moaned. "Dan, I've already promised to give three papers in fall and one of them's at the big annual literature conference. I'm doing that one with two other people. I can't disappoint them, Dan. You know how important it is to be part of these things."
I was starting to feel annoyed. "Terri, you're an established researcher. You've got ten pages of publications in your CV. I don't see how it will hurt your standing to take a semester off. You have the time coming if you want it, just like I do. It would be great if we could do this together. But if you won't, then I just might have to go without you."
Oh shit. Did I really say that? It just slipped out of me without thought. She must not have expected it either, as she went quiet for what seemed like an eternity. Finally she spoke, a bit haltingly. "Dan, I can't. I'm sorry. Go yourself if you want to, it sounds great for you. But I can't go with you. Please understand. It's not you. It's not the whole idea. But I've made commitments to people I respect, people I care about. I owe it to them to do what I've said I would. Please, Dan. I can't back out on my promises."
So there I was. Either set out on this adventure alone, or scrap the whole idea and be resentful for God knows how long. "People I care about," she said. What about ME? I dropped the subject, but I moped for the rest of the evening and was grumpy all the next day. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and she was throwing it away for the sake of a few more items on her resume. The more I thought about it, the more determined I became. Perhaps I would go without her. I'd certainly sacrificed enough for her in the past. Maybe it was time now to do something selfish; something vaguely mid-life-crisis-like. Something purely for me.
But I still hesitated. We had been together 25 years. Could I manage without her? Without someone to vent to on the bad days, to celebrate with on the days everything went right? Or for that matter without a sexual partner, routine though our love-making had become?
It was our daughter Sarah who helped me make up my mind. She had the same literary interests as her mother and was in her last year of a BA in English Literature. "Dad," she said over Skype that Friday, after hearing my situation. "Mom's not saying what she is because she doesn't love you, or doesn't want to share new things with you. But her work is her life. If she went with you, she'd be unhappy because she'd be thinking about everything she was missing back home. I don't think that her going would do either of you any good. You wouldn't want Mom around if she were miserable; she wouldn't want to be there if you'd be busy all the time, like with all those committees you've been part of lately."
"Do you think I should go?" I asked her bluntly.
"Dad, I say go for it. If I hadn't already committed to being a TA here next year I might go with you myself. Don't worry about Mom. She'll come around, and after thinking about it she'll understand that the work you'll do there is the kind you like best. Just make sure Steven doesn't get the idea in his head to go with you. We have a few Russian girls at school here and, if they're at all typical, he would spend the whole semester drooling over his classmates instead of studying."
"I'll remember that," I laughed. "Thanks, Sarah -- love you!"
I let Terri know my choice the next evening after our love-making session for the week, leaving out what Sarah had said about the drool-worthy Russian girls. I was sad, but not exactly surprised, that she didn't react much at all. Certainly she made no effort to change my mind -- just as I didn't try to change hers. Sarah was right. Terri must have come around pretty quickly, at least to the view that it was better to indulge me than to have me bitter and resentful. But she was still adamant -- she had made commitments, and she would not join me.
On Monday I informed Bob that I'd go to Kazakhstan, but without Terri. He looked surprised, but shook my hand and wished me good luck. He came through as promised with the Dean and the administration. I would get my full salary from Eastern for the sabbatical. KBS would provide plane tickets, housing, and a monthly stipend.
I don't think a semester has ever flown by as quickly for me as that spring did. I found myself very much looking forward both professionally and personally to the time away, and I'd overcome any hesitation I had about going without Terri. I had helpful e-mail exchanges with the Academic Dean at KBS, a man named Yerzhan Valykhanov, as to what was expected of the visiting foreign faculty. At home life with Terri continued pretty much as usual: the same easy familiarity, sadly the same formulaic love-making despite the fact that soon we would be going without for four months.
Terri did ask that before I left I take care of routine tasks like getting the cars serviced, and arrange for someone to handle the lawn and garden chores that I usually did. I set aside part of my earnings from summer teaching to hire a lawn care service for the fall. When my summer class ended I shipped two boxes of books ahead of me by FedEx. In mid-August I kissed Terri goodbye, boarded a plane with two suitcases and headed for Central Asia.
It was after dark when my plane landed at Almaty airport. I had flown first to Chicago, then to Amsterdam before the last leg to Almaty and after some 24 hours of travel I was exhausted. Yerzhan had written that I'd be met at the airport and taken to a hotel. I needed to look for someone holding a sign with my name.
I navigated immigration and baggage claim and as I emerged into the waiting area much of my fatigue instantly vanished when I saw a young, very attractive woman holding a sign reading "Dr. Dan Jackson -- KBS." I walked towards her and she favored me with a dazzling smile.
"Dr. Jackson, welcome to Almaty! My name is Elena and I work in Dr. Valykhanov's office. He's sorry he couldn't come himself but he asked me to greet you and make sure you got to your hotel. It's great to see you here. Did you have a good flight?"
"Very nice to meet you, Elena. The flight was OK but I'm pretty worn out just from being in the air so long."
"Yes, we thought you'd be tired so we'll go right to the hotel. Yevgeny will drive us." Yevgeny was a middle-aged man, slightly unkempt but with a friendly-looking face, whom I assumed (correctly it turned out) was a driver for KBS.
We made small talk about my trip as Yevgeny pushed my laden baggage cart to a Toyota Previa with the KBS logo. I took the chance to discreetly look Elena over. Quite petite, maybe 5'3". A well-proportioned frame, slender but not overly skinny, breasts somewhat hidden under a loose top but looking in balance with the rest of her body. Wavy black hair to her shoulders framed a strikingly attractive face with expressive brown eyes, reminding me a bit of one of my favorite adult models, Aria Giovanni. I had heard that Kazakhs looked obviously Oriental, but her features were more Western than Eastern. Perhaps she was ethnic Russian, or had Russian ancestry. She wore tight jeans and the high heels which I would learn were pretty much de rigueur for young Kazakhstani women. No ring on her finger, but of course she must have a boyfriend, as good-looking as she was. Her English was excellent. She was a delight to talk to, and I remembered what Sarah had said about her Russian classmates and found myself vaguely wondering if other women in Almaty were equally fascinating.
We arrived at a tall building after about 20 minutes' drive through what in the dark looked like mostly featureless streets. "Here we are, Dr. Jackson," she said. "Let's check you in and I'll leave so you can rest. Dr. Valykhanov will come by at 10 tomorrow morning." She efficiently negotiated the check in and saw that a bellhop carried my luggage upstairs, then said goodbye. I went up to the room and, not even bothering to unpack, fell quickly into dreamless slumber.
Yerzhan Valykhanov was a few years younger than me, solidly built, looking vaguely ex-military. (In fact he had served three tours of duty in the Soviet Army before the breakup of the USSR.) I knew he had been one of the first students from independent Kazakhstan to study in the States. Now he was realizing a dream to build a Western-style institution in his homeland. His handshake was firm but welcoming when he greeted me the next morning.
"Dr. Jackson, welcome to Kazakhstan and I hope you got some rest. I'm very much looking forward to getting your advice on our degree program. We'll go to the campus today, settle you in, and get you started on finding an apartment. And, by the way, is it OK if I call you Dan?"
"Yes, but only if I can call you Yerzhan," I replied. He smiled broadly. I already knew I'd enjoy working with him.
We drove in his car to the KBS campus, about 15 minutes away, through a veritable forest of street trees. The main building had been a secondary school in Soviet times. Of the two classroom wings, one still served as classroom space, the rooms refitted with LCD projectors and other modern technology. The other had been nicely renovated into faculty offices, a lounge area, and a library. In between the two wings was the former school cafeteria, now a restaurant called the KBS Grill, and the old head's office that now served for some of the admin staff including the President, a businessman who visited maybe once a week. Behind the building was a soccer field and basketball court. The Board had recently purchased a larger building just down the street, an old factory that would eventually house an auditorium, gymnasium, continuing education center, and some student housing. For now its grounds were used for parking. All in all it was a pretty good setup for a brand new institution.
The Dean's Office was on the ground floor of the office wing. Yerzhan and I entered and I saw Elena from last night, sitting with another woman. Yerzhan introduced me. "Dr. Jackson, this is Oxana, my executive assistant. And I know you met Elena last night. She's the office manager. Oxana, this is Dan Jackson, who'll be with us for the fall semester."
"It's very good to meet you, Oxana," I said. She was a blonde -- I suspected not natural -- and pretty well-endowed, which her office attire did not hide. "Elena, so glad to see you again. Thank you for taking the time to meet me yesterday."
"You're most welcome, Dr. Jackson," she replied. "How was your rest?"
"Very good, thank you. I probably could have slept two more days though. Remind me to negotiate business class tickets if I do this again." Yerzhan laughed at that.
I had been assigned an office on the same floor, near the end of the office corridor. My books had arrived and I spent the morning putting things in order. A technician from the IT department helped configure my laptop for the KBS network. I e-mailed Terri right away to let her know I'd arrived safely. I also had him ensure that Skype was working. The broadband connection was too slow for video calls, but audio calls worked fine. Yerzhan and I had lunch at the Grill, and he said that Elena would go with me when I started my apartment hunt in the afternoon.
Right at 2:00 Elena appeared at my office door. "Ready to go look at apartments?" she asked.
"Yes, indeed. Let's go." KBS had contacts with several real estate agencies that listed furnished apartments. Most of the ones near the campus were in Soviet-era walk-up buildings. They looked shabby on the outside, but Elena assured me that many of the owners had renovated them inside and some could be very attractive. Yevgeny drove us to the different buildings on Elena's list.
The first two apartments were clean enough but rather nondescript. Linoleum floors, rather tired wallpaper, equally tired furniture. The third was different. Still a Soviet-vintage building, but lovely original parquet floors, high ceilings with large windows, more sparsely furnished but more modern-looking. It had a light, airy feel that the first two did not have. It also had a queen-size bed rather than twins. Why this attracted me I don't know -- maybe I was just used to it at home. I certainly wasn't expecting anyone to share the bed with me. It was on the third floor and overlooked a green courtyard that doubled as a children's playground. I made my decision at once.
"I don't need to take any more of your time, Elena," I said after a minute or so. "This one will do nicely."
"Yes, Dr. Jackson, I agree, it's much nicer than the other two," she replied. "I'm sure you'll enjoy it here."