tagRomanceGo with Flow

Go with Flow

byjeanne_d_artois©

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Copyright jeanne_d_artois (aka oggbashan)

November 2017

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.


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Florence, normally known as Flow, is the beauty queen of our small university. There were three Florences in our year. At first, because her full name is Florence Jones, she was called Flo-Jo. It was soon shortened to Flow because of the way she moves. She is long-legged, naturally blonde and moves beautifully as if she is gliding along above the ground. Her nickname of Flow is very appropriate.

Flow may look beautiful but she has brains. Some of us think it is unfair that Flow is so attractive and brilliant as well. As a first year she won the Mathematics Prize. She won the second year prize as well. The results for the other mathematics students were good but Flow's were outstanding. We all know she will get a First and probably a career in the university.

But Flow doesn't really care about the men who are constantly asking her for dates. She seems to be more interested in the applications of a Planck Constant than any romantic encounter. Obscure mathematics excites her. Men don't. She's not attracted to women either.

Yet Flow dresses with studied care. She always appears immaculate, feminine and a reproach to many other students who live in creased casual wear. She wears stockings, heels, dresses and skirts. Even her winter outerwear has a fashionable air. How she does it puzzles her friends. She has no more money than the rest of us but the clothing she buys works for the image Flow projects.

I know I have a problem with clothes. I'm tall and large. My boyfriend Mike likes me the way I am perhaps because he's even taller and heavier. He is part of the University's rugby scrum, the largest member. He can pick me up as if I was as light as Flow. I'm not. I weigh twice as much as she does.

Friends? Yes, Flow has friends, many friends. We ought to resent her intelligence and beauty. We don't. Flow will help anyone who asks politely. She will organise student events, produce acceptable compromises to solve the inevitable disputes over those events, and make sure they are run effectively, efficiently and everyone enjoys themselves. The only disappointed ones are the men Flow has rejected -- again. Even after rejection they still worship Flow.

She might appear perfect. She's not. She gets frustrated that she can't go further and faster with Mathematics. She can be annoyed by friends who complain about their romantic relationships. She is dismissive of lovers' tiffs. Her attitude is 'If he loves you or you love him you should tolerate each other and seek the best for the other. If you can't? It's not love.'

+++

Towards the end of the Autumn term of our third year we wanted to raise money for a local charity. The cause is unimportant but we had decided on an auction of promises. Each of us would promise to provide some service and those promises would be auctioned to raise money for the charity. As usual Flow's contributions to the organisation were effective. She had persuaded some of the students to approach local business and get 'promises' from them such as a free meal for two in the local restaurant.

At a committee meeting to discuss progress we were reviewing the promises listed so far. My boyfriend Mike was chairing the meeting. He handed round a printout showing who had made an offer, what the offer was, and a suggested reserve or minimum bid for that promise. Part of the conditions of the auction was that only third year students could bid. That had affected what promises were on offer. We wouldn't mind cooking a meal for a fellow student, or washing and ironing, or taking someone to a local venue. We wouldn't do those for a stranger.

"There's one promise not on the list of offers that is very popular," Mike said as we studied his printout.

"That is?" I asked.

Mike looked at Flow sitting next to me.

"I have had over a dozen requests for a date with Flow to be included."

Flow looked shocked and then burst into tears. She turned her head away. I pulled her against my shoulder. She sobbed. The rest of us were stunned. We knew Flow rejected requests for dates but we hadn't expected such a reaction.

"Why me, Sarah?" Flow whispered against my shoulder. "Why me, always me? Can't they leave me alone?"

"You don't have to, Flow," Mike said slowly and carefully. "We won't have any promises that could cause distress..."

"...Distress!" Flow lifted her head and shouted. "I don't want a fucking date!"

We were shocked again. I had never heard Flow swear before.

"I just want to be left alone. It's constant. Almost everyday some sweaty sportsman..." Flow stopped. She looked at Mike.

"Sorry, Mike. I don't mean you. You and Sarah are my friends and you've never..."

"We are your friends, Flow, all of us," Mike said. "More than that. Sarah and I love you as you are. Even those who ask you for dates accept your rejection and still love you."

"I don't want love! Not that kind of love..." Flow stopped suddenly.

We knew she had been about to say something significant. Flow pulled away from my shoulder, took a tissue out of her handbag and dried her tears. She looked around at all of us before smiling weakly.

"I know you are my friends. In some ways that makes it more difficult for me. This place has been great. I have enjoyed being here. The requests for dates have been..." Flow paused. "...a nuisance. No more than that. I know they mean well but I can't. I just can't... I won't."

Flow's face showed determination.

"I won't. Not now. Not soon. Not ever? I'll just say the probability that I will go on a date is very low indeed."

"Why, Flow?" I asked. We all wanted to know.

"I could say I'm not interested. It wouldn't be true. I could say I'm frightened. Partly true. All I will say is that the idea is abhorrent. Why? I won't say. Please accept that."

"Sorry I upset you, Flow," Mike said. "As you know we allowed requests for promises for payment of one pound per request. We left the list up for a week."

Mike held up a sheaf of paper.

"This is the printout of the requests in order of frequency. We made it very clear that the requests might not be met. We only agreed to consider them."

He put the papers down on the table. He drew a line through the first item on each sheet before passing them around.

"So far we have made eighty three pounds from requests. Flow heads the list even after the deletion. I hope this one won't upset you..."

Flow was already reading her copy. She smiled. It was still a weak smile but it was a smile.

"That one I could do."

It was a request for Flow to provide an hour's advice for a woman on how to make best use of her wardrobe of clothes.

Unlike the request for a date which had raised fourteen pounds, the request for Flow's advice had been made eight times. One of those requests had been mine. Like many of the repeated requests, the initial ask had been followed by 'me too' endorsements.

Three other requests had been for dates with specified women. Mike had contacted all three. Two had agreed that the request could be added to the list of promises. The other had already contacted the man asking for a date with her to be on the list. She had already given him a date and would be on a second date this Saturday. The man had been too shy to ask her directly. The two of them had agreed he would pay ten pounds towards the charity funds even if the second date went nowhere.

"I could advise eight women," Flow said. "How would that work?"

"It's supposed to be an auction," I said. "but perhaps the highest bidder gets your advice first?"

"That sounds reasonable," Flow said. "What do you think, Mike?"

"It's up to you, Flow. Can you spare eight hours?"

"I think so. But eight would be the limit."

"OK, Flow. We'll have eight separate hours in the auction. The highest bidder gets the first hour, the rest in order. If there are more than eight bidders? Only the first eight pay and get an hour. OK?"

Flow nodded.

"The other requests are reasonable but three could be difficult," Mike said. "They are possible but they don't fit the auction format. We have requests for a carol service, a nativity play, and a Christmas party all before the end of this term."

We could see an auction for those was problematic.

"The carol service? We could arrange that with the vicar. The nativity play? The Dramatic society might do it but it is short notice. The Christmas Party? That's easiest. We've organised many parties. What do you think? How do they fit with raising money for charity?"

The general discussion on those three continued for about a quarter of an hour. I could feel Flow's tension gradually subsiding. Eventually we decided to ask the vicar and the Dramatic society. The carol service if it happened would be free with a collection for the church. The nativity play? Up to the Dramatic society but perhaps a charge for the event or a collection. The party? We could sell tickets.

At the end of that discussion Mike assigned tasks to several people and closed the meeting.

+++

Mike, Flow and I were the last. Mike was putting chairs away at the other end of the room.

"Why, Flow?" I asked quietly. "Why were you so upset?"

Flow looked at me and pointedly at Mike.

"Not here, Sarah. Not now. Tomorrow lunchtime?"

"If that's what you want. I assume you mean just me."

"Yes, Sarah. I like Mike but..."

"But he's a man?"

"Yes."

+++

As Mike and I walked back to our student apartments he was very quiet. Usually he would have been talking about the meeting, what had gone well, what hadn't. He just held my hand and walked beside me.

At the corner of the street where we normally part with a kiss I pulled him to a stop.

"What's up, Mike?" I asked. "You're not yourself."

"I know," he replied. "I'm worried about Flow."

"So am I. That wasn't like her. I've arranged to meet her tomorrow lunchtime -- without you. I hope you don't mind."

"Of course not, Sarah. If you, or we, can help Flow, we will."

"It depends on what, if anything, she tells me. But..."

I looked up at Mike, one of the few men I have to look up to.

"If I asked you..." I hesitated.

"Asked me what?"

"Asked you to take Flow on a date?"

"But we're..."

"I know, Mike. We're engaged even if we are delaying the announcement until we have told our parents. But I want to lend you to Flow because I trust you. I think she does too. If, as I think, she has had a bad experience on a date, she needs to try again with someone who will treat her very gently and carefully."

"And you think I can do that? I'm not sure a bad date is enough explanation for Flow's reaction. It must have been at least two years ago because she's rejected every request as long as we've known her. Or at least -- I think she has."

"Maybe Flow will tell me tomorrow or at least give me a hint. Are you willing for me to offer you to Flow?"

"Yes, Sarah. She's a friend. If I can help? But I still think her problem is deeper than that. I hadn't expected her to be so brittle. She seems so strong and self-contained. Most of us have had times during the last few years when we were down, sometimes about stupid things like a minor argument, sometimes about money or our studies. Yet Flow has seemed calm, secure and above minor irritations. Whatever is wrong, it isn't minor. A date would have had to have gone very wrong indeed to affect her like this."

"I'll ask -- tomorrow."

"Be careful, very careful. You could be walking on very thin ice. Let her tell you as little or as much as she is willing to. Don't push her. If she wants you NOT to say anything to me? Agree. Let her set the boundaries."

We talked a little longer before the usual hug and kiss. Flow lives in her own flat off campus. I thought she was sometimes lonely. But Mike was right. I have to treat Flow carefully tomorrow. I can listen as a friend but only as far as she is willing to share her problem.

+++

As usual I went to the student canteen at lunchtime. The food is basic but cheap, and cheapness is essential for most of us. Flow and I sat together but she told me she wouldn't talk here and now. We would have to go somewhere where we couldn't be overheard. The canteen echoed and conversations could be heard even if those talking were some distance from us.

We went for a walk in the campus grounds, Flow leading as we climbed the hill behind the university buildings. Near the top of the hill there was a bench a few yards from the path. We could see anyone coming. We sat down.

Flow was looking down the hill beyond the university to the town in the valley and the hills in the distance.

"Sarah, I'm sorry I reacted so badly yesterday," Flow said.

"You don't need to be sorry, Flow. Mike didn't intend to upset you and you were with friends. None of us would deliberately hurt or embarrass you."

"I know. I have to keep reminding myself that despite being a Maths nerd I have so many friends who like me."

"We like you for who you are, Flow."

"But I don't like myself. Or what I have become. I ought to be willing to go on a date with one of our friends. Even though I trust them, I don't trust myself to behave properly."

I nearly made a joke suggesting that Flow might attack her date sexually. I stopped myself. Flow's attitude was sad and serious. This was no time for jokes.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Why not what, Sarah? That I can't go on a date, or that I can't trust myself?"

"Both, I suppose."

"You won't tell anyone else?"

"Of course not! If you want this to between Flow and Sarah and no one else, that's how it will be."

"Not even your Mike?"

"Not even Mike. It might be slightly awkward because we have no secrets between us, but Mike already understands that you won't want me to tell him."

"He does?"

"Yes. He's your friend too. He wouldn't let me do anything or say anything that would embarrass you. If he wasn't 'my Mike' I think he would like to be Flow's Mike. Like me, he loves you, Flow. So do most of the men in our group. That's why they accept your rejections. They want the best for Flow. They don't and won't push you into doing something you don't want to do."

"That's a long speech for you, Sarah."

"It was. But you're diverting from the reason why we are here. Our men love you. The women do too, but in a different way. You could make me jealous because so many people love you. I'm not, because I have Mike and he has me. Please? You have the opportunity to talk about your fears. Use it, please."

Flow turned to look straight at me.

"OK, Sarah. You asked for it. You know I'm slightly older than most of us third years? You think you know, because I lied, that I took a year out to earn some money before starting here. I intended to do that. I was eighteen and a half when I started working for a small investment company in the local city. I thought I was doing well and I was flattered that the son of the owner liked me. After a few months we had a date for my nineteenth birthday..."

Flow stopped. She looked at the view again. She was looking into the distance as her voice became quieter.

"It started normally. We went to the local theatre to see a play and to the theatre bar afterwards. When I went to the Ladies room he put a date rape drug in my drink. The next thing I knew was waking up in his bed, no longer a virgin. He had raped me -- brutally. Apart from the stretching I had bruises and bite marks. I hadn't expected penetrative sex on our first date and I had no protection. He boasted that he hadn't used a condom. He hadn't.

As soon as I could I left, rushing to a chemist to get and take the morning-after pill. It didn't work probably because I spent most of the day being violently sick. At work he threatened me with the family lawyers if I said anything. He had the power to ruin me financially as he had sexually. I resigned from the job. I couldn't face seeing him again because he kept asking for another date.

I know now I should have gone to the Police and reported him for rape. Why didn't I? An elder sister of one of my school friends had been raped by a cousin after her nineteenth birthday party. She had gone to the Police but the court case destroyed her. She was cross-examined about her previous sexual experience; he claimed it was consensual and he was her boyfriend -- a lie. But the court experience was like another rape. I didn't want that to happen to me and he could afford expensive barristers who would crucify me in public."

Flow had moved closer to me. Her head was resting on my shoulder as she talked.

"The coincidence of the nineteenth birthday was too much for me. I just couldn't face what she had gone through. I knew her, before and after the court case. Afterwards she was bitter, twisted and suicidal. Yes, her attacker was convicted, but she paid a higher price than he did. He went to jail for a couple of years. She isn't the person she was and never will be. I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of destroying me as a result of his rape. I was thinking about getting an abortion as soon as I knew I was pregnant. I had made enquiries about where and how that could be done. It might have cost most of my earnings. But I had appalling morning sickness until I miscarried in the third month. I was free of the physical consequences of his rape, but not the mental ones."

My arm went around Flow. I intended it as a reassurance. She seemed to accept it and snuggled closer.

"During the morning sickness I couldn't work or even look for work. That eroded the earnings I had made. My parents' attitude to my pregnancy wasn't good. My father thought I should marry the rapist. My mother disagreed but suggested I should have the baby. I felt alone, unsupported by anyone, and in a desperate situation. After the miscarriage I celebrated by getting drunk on cheap red wine and making myself sick. The next morning I was disgusted with myself but I went to the Job Centre. Within hours I had a job as a night shelf stacker in a supermarket.

At first that was wonderful. I had a job. I was earning money. I was working nights and had some spare time in the day. I was buying a small flat. My parents had paid the deposit. My grandfather added some more capital. I started with a mortgage of only fifty per cent of the flat's value. While I was unemployed and suffering from the morning sickness the mortgage payments worried me. My parents, despite their attitude to my pregnancy, paid the mortgage for those months.

The staff uniform at the supermarket became a problem. The first week I came to work in my own clothes but the only uniform they had in my size was a uniform dress. The skirt was shortish. When I reached up I showed my panties. Some of the male stackers would hover close to me just to watch. I didn't mind that too much except for the couple of creeps who made comments. But one night manager did more. He'd slap me on my panties. I objected. He gave me a bad appraisal. I complained to the personnel department. He was reprimanded but my bad appraisal was left as it was. No matter how hard I worked his assessments were unfair. It showed me, again, that power corrupts. After a few months I applied to a different supermarket. I was appointed because they were desperate but my reference was poor, dictated by him.

By the time I started at university the new supermarket had accepted that I was a good worker. I still work for them now on Friday and Saturday nights. That income is enough to pay the mortgage."

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