The Outsider Ch. 01bycaligula97236©
Chapter 1 - Parking Tickets
Mike Sinclair and Ruthie Burns were students taking classes at the Davenport State University, just north of the town of Santa Cruz in California. The two students were among 50 others who were enrolled in a sophomore-level literature review class titled "British Prose 1902-1945". Almost everyone taking the course had no intention of studying literature, but the class counted to fill a humanities requirement and was considered an easy "A". The professor was old enough to realize that he had nothing to prove to anyone, and therefore did not make unrealistic demands of the students. Show up to class, read the books, be able to talk about them, and you're guaranteed an "A". Not a bad deal for anyone worried about their GPA.
Mike was beginning his sophomore year. He was a native of California, from a family that had lived in Santa Cruz for decades. Although his parents had never changed their residence, he had traveled about on vacation with his relatives while still in high school, so he was familiar with a lot of different places around the US and the rest of the world. He was well-read and very knowledgeable, which led him to be extremely opinionated about everything. It was very difficult to find a topic that he was neutral about, so he was not the sort of student who mixed well in casual situations. However, if a person needed a study partner or someone on their side in a game of trivia pursuit, Mike was their man.
Mike normally showed up to class wearing t-shirts with political logos; usually with a message against corporate capitalism. He bore particular resentment against the US conglomerate Mega-Town Associates. He was active in the anti-MTA group on campus and continuously passed out fliers condemning the company to anyone interested in taking one. It was obvious that in the class he would be one of the students getting an easy "A" because he clearly did read all of the books and had comments for each of them. Most of the other students were content to let Mike pontificate on the assignments, because if he was talking, the others could kick back and not worry about being called upon. Because of Mike's habit of commenting on everything, the professor was hard-pressed to get his more apathetic classmates to say more than a few words. If a student who didn't know the answer hesitated long enough, Mike would come to the rescue with a comment or hint. That habit was irritating to the professor whose job it was to sort the students who had done the reading from those who had not, but he respected Mike's command of the literature to not say anything to him about overshadowing his classmates.
Ruthie was a freshman who had graduated from a high school in Salinas. She always sat up front near the window. She was extremely quiet and never talked unless called upon. During class she habitually stared at the world outside, but it was clear that she was paying attention to the lecture, because she always did know what to say if she was asked a question. There was no question she was a very strange girl, because she fidgeted whenever someone talked to her and never looked a person in the eye during a conversation. Another strange thing about her was her clothing, because she wore so little of it. A pair of old tennis shoes, loose running shorts, and a t-shirt normally were the only things Ruthie put on in the morning. When she sat down and the thin cloth of her t-shirt pressed against her body, it was clear that she was not wearing anything underneath. About once a week she wore even less, a pair of flip-flops and a flimsy dress that was totally open in the back clear down to her waist. She wore no jewelry and no make-up. Her black hair was short, which was good for her because usually it was not combed.
Mike had noticed Ruthie, partly because of her abbreviated clothing and partly because, in spite of her lack of grooming, she was very attractive. She had a petite well-proportioned figure with slightly olive skin, very large dark eyes, and a mouth that was sensuous in a quiet way. He enjoyed looking at her, especially on the days she wore her skimpy dress, but at the same time never entertained thoughts about trying to talk to her. She was too withdrawn, no doubt, to be interesting to talk to.
The semester progressed as Mike and Ruthie pursued their lives. They both fretted about their classes and their finances, had unpleasant moments with their respective roommates, and worked on term papers.
Ruthie, in spite of her shyness, managed to get a job at the in the Student Center at the coffee shop. Starting the last week of September, she worked from 5:00 am until 11:00 am, taking responsibility for the initial cash count, setting up the equipment for the day, receiving food orders, and opening for business at 7:00. Two co-workers showed up at 7:00, but during the first two hours of each morning Ruthie usually worked alone, which she preferred. She took advantage of the solitude to listen to her favorite news show on Public Radio as she set up. When the newspapers arrived, she took a break to go through them. By the time she actually started serving coffee, Ruthie had thoroughly informed herself about what had happened in the world the day before.
Mike frequently bought coffee at the store before going to class, which meant seeing Ruthie running about in a blue apron worn over her abbreviated clothing. For some reason he felt that she looked sexy in that apron, especially on the days she wore her backless dress. With her bare back it was easy to imagine Ruthie wearing the apron with nothing underneath.
Whether or not Mike wanted to accept it, he was beginning to feel somewhat attracted to his classmate. Throughout October he still did not imagine that he would ever have any type of relationship with her, because she definitely "was not his type". However, he had to admit that he enjoyed looking at her. He started leaving money in the tip jar, but only did so when Ruthie was working. Mike was not an overly generous person with his money, but he was willing to part with a dollar each time he bought coffee in exchange for a slight smile of gratitude from her.
Nevertheless, throughout October Mike's mind was not on Ruthie except when she was nearby. When he saw her in class or in the Student Center, his thoughts about her were a vague attraction, and that was about it. At that point in his life he certainly was not losing any sleep over her. He still took it for granted that her strange, quiet personality would not suit him and that what he needed to do was find another political activist like himself. Yes, that was what he needed, someone who understood the evils being committed by those who love money, a strong woman whose intellect could match his.
The assigned readings in the literature class for the third week of October included several stories by William Somerset Maugham, which included the classic "Red". Assigned questions requested the students to comment on Maugham's attitudes about colonialism, his concept of class, his descriptions of interracial relationships, and his attitude towards women. That night Mike and Ruthie took their respective copies of Maugham's stories home and read the following:
"And so the little wooden house was built in which he had now lived for many years, and Sally became his wife. But after the first few weeks of rapture, during which he was satisfied with what she gave him, he had known little happiness. She had yielded to him, through weariness, but she had only yielded what she set no store on. The soul which he had dimly glimpsed escaped him. He knew that she cared nothing for him. She still loved Red, and all the time she was waiting for his return. At a sign from him, Neilson knew that, notwithstanding his love, his tenderness, his sympathy, his generosity, she would leave him without a moment's hesitation. She would never give a thought to his distress. Anguish seized him and he battered at that impenetrable self of hers which sullenly resisted him. His love became bitter. He tried to melt her heart with kindness, but it remained as hard as before: he feigned indifference, but she did not notice it.
Sometimes he lost his temper and abused her, and then she wept silently. Sometimes he thought she was nothing but a fraud, and that soul simply an invention of his own, and that he could not get into the sanctuary of her heart because there was no sanctuary there. His love became a prison from which he longed to escape, but he had not the strength merely to open the door - that was all it needed - and walk out into the open air. It was torture and at last he became numb and hopeless. In the end the fire burnt itself out and, when he saw her eyes rest for an instant on the slender bridge, it was no longer rage that filled his heart but impatience. For many years now they had lived together bound by the ties of habit and convenience, and it was with a smile that he looked back on his old passion."
Mike had plenty to say about the passage. He was still bitter over the break-up with his girlfriend the previous Christmas, and he projected his bitterness onto the character Sally. He berated the fictional woman for being so selfish and for not taking advantage of the fact that someone decent loved her, that she was interested only in the guy who was better-looking but totally irresponsible. To that the professor responded:
"Yes, Mike, I do see your point. But this story has two sides...maybe three if you want to throw in Red. Sally, too, has a perspective, although I don't think Maugham developed it very well. Anyone want to comment?"
To the surprise of everyone in the class, Ruthie's hand shot up.
"Yeah, when I read this it pissed me off what that creep Neilson did to her. He wanted her to be his fucking toy. That's what he wanted. He didn't love her, because if he did, he would've left her alone...and he didn't even have the guts to go after her himself."
Mike moved to the edge of his seat and his hand went up, but the professor ignored him.
"Interesting, Ruthie. Care to elaborate on that last statement?"
"I mean...he forced her to marry him. And he did it by getting her family to nag at her until she couldn't take it any more. He forced her to do something she didn't want to do, and then he had the nerve to get pissed off when she wasn't happy. I mean...I wouldn't be happy either if I had to be owned by some sicko, and that fucking sicko wouldn't let me have what I really wanted."
Mike tightened his lips and kept his hand up until finally the professor recognized him.
"That's why women are always unhappy! Because they're all chasing after crap they can't have instead of being happy with what they do have! She had a hell of a better deal than most women in that place!"
"So? She didn't want him and he forced her! He never even gave her a chance to talk! I think that totally sucked and he should have spent the rest of his life trying to make it up to her! The rest of his fucking life!"
It was clear that both Mike and Ruthie were dealing with much more than a simple disagreement over an old story. It was obvious that he was projecting his own anger (which was nothing new), but now it was obvious that Ruthie was projecting hers as well. Neilson and Sally were surrogates for their own issues and their own disappointments in life.
For several minutes Mike and Ruthie went back and forth as the rest of the class sat watching them in silence. Mike was his usual argumentative self, but Ruthie's passionate participation seemed totally out of character for her. As she argued she became angrier and started searching for a way to cut at Mike and get him to shut up. Finally she said something that many other students in the class had felt like saying all semester.
"You know what, Mike? There's another story in the book called 'Mr. Know-it-all'. You ought to read it."
About half of the students knew what Ruthie was talking about, and of those, the majority laughed. There were a few claps and a whistle. Mike sullenly quit talking, because he knew that any response he could think of at the moment would only make the situation worse. Ruthie quit talking as well, seemingly embarrassed by her outburst and show of combativeness. Neither spoke throughout the rest of the class.
That night he read "Mr. Know-it-all", even though it was not part of the course readings. He cringed as he finished the story, because he realized that Ruthie had been right about him. What was worse was that undoubtedly the story was dead-on about how the other students in the class must have viewed him. His opinion of her changed, because she was a much more perceptive person than her normally shy behavior would have one believe.
The next morning Mike passed by the Student Center to get his usual cup of coffee. He was an early riser, so he was one of Ruthie's first customers of the day. On that particular morning she had worn her backless dress. She briefly flashed her large eyes in his direction and began preparing his usual drink, a simple 20-ounce cup of coffee. When she turned around and bent over slightly, her apron bulged forward and he could see the side of one of breasts under her loose clothing.
She blushed as she passed him the cup and took his money.
"I read 'Mr. Know-it-all'."
Mike shrugged slightly. "I guess there's something to what you said."
Ruthie handed him the change. "More than something..."
"You really think I'm that bad?"
Without looking up, Ruthie opened a carton of half-and-half and poured it into a metal pitcher.
"You're not that bad, but sometimes you need to know when to shut-up. You know...I hear people in class talking about you, making jokes...because you're always talking."
Mike blushed at both her comment and the embarrassing memory of having 20 of his classmates laughing at him. "Well, you didn't exactly help me yesterday."
"Why should I? I thought you were wrong and I told you. Why shouldn't I say what I think, just like you?"
"You really felt that strongly about it?"
"Yeah. I did. I wouldn't have said anything if I didn't." She handed him the pitcher of half-and-half. "Could you do me a favor and set this out on the counter?"
Mike reached around the corner of the stand where there was a shelf full of condiments and napkins. He set down the pitcher. She turned around to dump a filter from the espresso machine and replaced its contents with new coffee grounds. Mike admired the girl's bare back as she worked and suddenly was hit with an overwhelming urge to run his hands over her smooth skin. Against his wishes, he realized that his feelings about her had dramatically intensified.
He decided to change the subject and see if he could get to know her better. He felt that the fact that she had asked him to do her a favor was an opening, however slight; a hint that she might be willing to talk a bit more about herself and move beyond the unpleasant encounter from the day before.
"So...how do you like it here? Working in the Student Center?"
"It's OK. Better here than the cafeteria or the pizza place."
"You don't mind opening?"
"No. I don't mind. I like it. I'm used to getting up early from when I was in high school. I get here, and things are quiet. It's nice, actually...the first part of my day I get to relax and get paid for it."
Mike hesitated, trying to think of what else to say or ask. A group of sorority girls showed up, chatting loudly and ordering expensive complicated mocha drinks. A co-worker of Ruthie's came rushing in and threw on his apron. She gave him an unpleasant look, presumably because he had come to work late. The moment to converse had passed. Mike put his usual dollar in the tip jar and left for class.
After leaving the Student Center, Ruthie rushed back to her dorm to have lunch. She got off work at 11:00 and had her first class of the day at noon. It was imperative that she get something in her stomach after work because her schedule did not allow her to eat breakfast. Going to class with nothing but pastries and coffee in her stomach didn't cut it. She rushed into the cafeteria, grabbed several pieces of fruit, a glass of orange juice, and some rice, and filled a salad bowl with vegetables. She snuck the fruit into her backpack and ate the rice and salad. She washed everything down with the juice. As always, she ate alone and was out of the dining hall within 10 minutes of sitting down. A quick trip to the bathroom on her floor to piss and brush her teeth, and she was on her way back to central campus. She made it to class just as her professor was about to start lecturing.
At 1:30 Ruthie got out of class and for the first time all day had some time to relax. She had a favorite spot on campus: a tree-covered area that separated the Economics Building from a large parking lot full of parking meters. In theory the lot was for campus visitors, but students filled it up early in the morning and stayed parked at the meters all day. There was a rush in the area in the early morning and late afternoon, but in the middle of the day it was totally quiet and very rarely was anyone around.
During her first week at the university, Ruthie had realized that if she went into the shade under the trees, it was very hard to see her from either the parking lot or the sidewalk leading to the Economics Building. As for the building itself, the foliage completely concealed the ground from the windows. If anyone came from either the parking lot or the building, a person sitting under the trees could see the passerby long before the passerby noticed anyone was sitting under the trees. That detail was important for the way she planned to spend her afternoon.
After making sure no one was in sight, Ruthie laid a towel on the ground and took off her dress. As was normal for her, she wore nothing underneath the flimsy garment. She totally hated having to wear clothing, and had it not been illegal, she would have spent her life in the nude. The light dress was the next best thing, because it covered her enough to keep her within the confines of the law but did not feel suffocating on her skin.
She lay on the towel under the shade and pulled out two textbooks and a notebook. She had about two hours to prepare for her next class, so she'd be relaxing and studying under the pleasant shelter under the leaves with the breeze caressing her bare skin. She pulled out a pear from her backpack and munched on it while she took notes.
After she had been studying for an hour, she heard the whirr of a bicycle coming down the sidewalk. She looked up, but did not bother to get dressed. Bicyclists always went by so fast that they had no time to look towards the trees. Still, just to be sure, she always kept her eye on any bicyclists until they were out of sight.
This time the bicyclist was someone she knew; her classmate Mike Sinclair. He was wearing the uniform of the Campus Parking Department and was loaded down with ticketing paraphernalia. She watched as he dismounted from his bicycle, pulled out his ticketing machine, and approached the first car out of several hundred that were parked at meters that had not been paid. He typed the car's information into his machine, pulled out what looked like a small receipt, stuffed it into a red envelope, and placed the envelope under the windshield wiper of the car. Within 30 seconds he was done and had moved onto his next victim.
Ruthie watched Mike with concern. The students had been taking advantage of the lot to park at the meters all day without paying, which meant that no one could get a spot after classes started and the area was deserted after 9:00 am. If the freeloaders were chased out and the meters used by people who actually paid them, there would be a lot more movement in and out of the lot and she would lose her private spot to lie out naked. What could she say to Mike: don't do your job so I can lie here in the nude? That probably wouldn't work.