Excerpt for Love in All the Wrong Places by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Love in All the Wrong Places


T. J. Robertson

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 T. J. Robertson

Thank you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied, and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided it remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed it, please return to Smashwords.com to discover other works by this author. Thank you for respecting his hard work.

* * * *

* * * *

* * * *

* * * *

"Oh, Laurie, you should meet the new guidance counselor. What a hunk! He's a dead ringer for Ryan Gosling."

That exclamation came from Amy Landers, my best friend, whose insolent dark eyes, fleshy nose, and pursed lips made her appear unfriendly, if not hostile. Nothing, however, could have been further from the truth; for, beneath that gruff exterior beat a heart of gold.

"Oh, sure, and I'm Emma Stone." I mocked her because one thing was for certain; she was no connoisseur of American manhood.

Placing her hands on her plump hips and thrusting her moon face close to mine, she said, "How come so many of our friends are going to the guidance office to switch to him?"

"They can take my place," I replied with disinterest.

"You don't know how lucky you are to be assigned to him," she pouted.

Miss Elsie Betts, a hefty, fortyish woman with a perpetual smile and neat sense of humor, had been my counselor. Now, in the middle of my junior year, she had resigned to marry a dairyman from Vermont. "What else would you expect from someone named Elsie?" she is said to have quipped at a going-away party.

Russell Sanderson, a young recent college graduate from the Midwest, was her replacement. When I saw him passing in the corridor, I had to admit Amy was right. With curly blond hair, deep blue eyes, and a warm smile, he was good-looking, if not handsome. And his tall, athletic build made him even more so. Unlike many of my friends, however, I refused to rush down to the guidance office and, in a swoon, sign up to see him. Besides, I was not one of those students who hang around there and pour their hearts out. Once a year Miss Betts would come looking for me and literally drag me back to her office for a meeting. And that annual ritual was fine with me.

Mr. Sanderson did not catch up with me until May. One morning my homeroom teacher handed me a pass, saying, "You're scheduled to meet with your guidance counselor during study hall today."

I grimaced; for I was planning use that period to study for a French exam.

"You should be so lucky," Amy said, shaking her head in disbelief at my attitude. Shortly after Mr. Sanderson had arrived on the scene, she had been among those that tried to switch to him but the guidance director, fearing a stampede, put the kibosh on transfers.

Instead of reporting to the guidance office, I chose to remain in the study hall and prepare for my upcoming exam. Midway through the period, the monitor called to me. When I reached her desk, she pointed to the door, saying, "Your guidance counselor is waiting in the corridor to speak with you."

"Hi, Laurie," he said, extending his hand, "I'm Mr. Sanderson, your guidance counselor." The warmth of his touch lingered long after he had released my hand. "Because I sense you want to get back to studying, I won't keep you long."

"Yes, my class work comes first."

"As it should," he replied with a wag of his head. "But I've met with all of my students except you and, because this year is coming to a close, you've got to begin thinking about what you want to do after graduation. Do you have any specific career goals?"

I shrugged. "Because I enjoy meeting people, I may try to get a job as a receptionist." I was swimming in his deep blue eyes which reminded me of the inviting waters of Cape Cod Bay. "The truth is, however, I haven't given it much thought."

"You have an excellent academic record." As he leaned casually against the wall, I became acutely aware of his strong jaw line and lean body. "Therefore, you'll have many other options."

I blushed; for, I always had trouble accepting compliments. "Thanks," I offered weakly.

"I've brought along an interest survey for you to complete at home. It'll help identify careers you may want to explore," he said, inclining his head and handing it to her. "The directions are self-explanatory and when you return it to me, I'll discuss the results with you."

"Fine," I replied, taking the booklet.

"I won't keep you any longer since I know you're anxious to get back to studying. Thanks for letting me talk to you." With a smile and a wave, he turned and strode back toward his office. For a long time, I stood motionless and watched him disappear.

That evening I completed the survey and in the morning dropped it off with the guidance secretary. The next day I received another pass to the guidance office. This time, however, I looked forward to the meeting. "It's good to see you again, Laurie. Come on in," he said, welcoming me with a warm smile and leading me into his office. "I've scored your interest survey."

I sat next to his desk and, as he opened a folder bearing my name, the fragrance of his aftershave lotion intoxicated me. Pulling out a sheet of paper with an elaborate, brightly colored graph, he said, "You scored highest in the creative field. Do you play a musical instrument, paint, or draw?"

"No, but I do enjoy writing poetry," I confessed.

"What do you write about?" he asked, running a hand through his flock of curls.

"People." Frankly, at that moment I wanted to write an ode to this blond Adonis.

"Interesting," he said, beaming his approval. "You also showed a high interest in the social work field which, of course, involves working with people in a helping relationship."

I nodded, noting how his open-necked shirt, sports coat, and tan Wallabees matched his casual and easy-going manner.

"The outdoors appears to be another one of your strong interests," he said, regarding me with curiosity.

"That sounds right," I replied with a nod. "I spend my summers on Cape Cod; my aunt has a cottage there. Swimming and sailing are my favorite pastimes."

"Lucky you." His face broke into a broad, infectious grin and I found myself smiling back.

Looking down at the survey results, he said, "You're probably not interested in math and science."

"That's true," I replied with a wag of my head, "I have trouble adding one and one to make three."

We shared a laugh and, then, turning more serious, he asked, "Did you know you ranked fifth in your class last year?"

"No." In the past the principal had always kept class rank confidential.

"I think that's a great accomplishment." His smile widened in approval.

Again I turned scarlet and mumbled, "Thank you"

"Last time we talked you said you might be interested in work as a receptionist. If, after further consideration, that's what you decide to do, that's fine with me. All I'm asking is that you keep all your options open."

Leaning forward on my chair, I asked, "What options do I have?"

"Your interests point toward success in a variety of fields such as writing, social work, counseling, personnel work, and recreation," he said, pointing to the chart. "I hope you'll investigate them."

"But those require college and I don't have the money for higher education," I confessed. "My father died two years ago and my mother's health is no great shakes. As if high blood pressure and diabetes weren't bad enough, she recently underwent an operation for thyroid cancer. All the while she's been working hard to put food on the table. So, I feel an obligation to help her out."

His eyes were gentle and contemplative. "Nowadays, there are more educational opportunities than ever for women," he replied, leaning back and forming a steeple with his fingers. "With your excellent academic record and fine references, many colleges will be interested in you. You'll most certainly be eligible for some kind of financial aid and may even qualify for a full scholarship." The warmth and concern in his tone did not go unnoticed. "Now I'm not saying you should go to college or become a receptionist; that's up to you to decide. I just want you to be in a position to make a sound decision."

Just then a breeze from his open window blew the sheet of paper to the floor. As we both reached down to get it, our hands touched. Once again I felt a warm surge of electricity. Our eyes met and, for what seemed an eternity, we did not speak but just sat staring at one another.

Long after I had left his office, I could feel the tingle of his touch. Following that meeting whenever we passed one another in the hallway, he would always give me a hearty hello and a warm smile. And, of course, I would return his greeting in kind.

Before I could meet with him again, however, summer vacation arrived. July and August found me at my aunt's cottage on Cape Cod. Nights I worked taking orders at a local seafood restaurant and days I swam and relaxed at the beach.

One evening by the cash register at work, a familiar voice exclaimed, "Laurie, is that you?"

Looking up, I gasped, "Mr. Sanderson." Then, pretending to give myself the once over, I quipped, "Yes, it's poor little me, all right."

"You living and working here on the Cape--what a pleasant surprise," he said, glancing around. I nodded and he tapped the side of head, adding, "Oh, that's right, you said your aunt had a cottage here."

Again I nodded. "In Dennis. I spend my days lounging on the beach and my evenings working here."

"Your days appeal to me more than your nights," he joked.

When our laughter ebbed, I broke the awkward silence. "What brings you down here?"

"I'm taking some courses at Cape Cod Community College," he replied with a shrug, "so I've rented a room in Dennis for the season."

Taking his order, which was a clam plate special and a root beer, I said, "I think you'll like Dennis."

"Yes, I'm sure I will." A knowing light twinkled in the depths of his blue eyes. "Coming from the Midwest, as you might imagine, I don't know much about the Cape and its beaches," he confessed. "What's a good beach in Dennis?"

"I personally like Corporation Beach," I replied eagerly. "It's small but quaint; the water's super and the parking adequate."

"On your recommendation, I'll try it tomorrow." Glancing at the customers queuing up behind him, he exclaimed, "Jeez, I better get out of here; I'm holding up the line. Nice seeing you." Then, he stepped aside, took a seat, and awaited his order.

Mary Garland, a co-worker with bug eyes and a long nose--the latter made for sticking into other people's business--nudged me. "Laurie, who's that gorgeous guy?"

"You'd pass out if I told you," I jested.

"Don't keep me in suspense. Who is he?"

"My guidance counselor."

"You should be so lucky," she said, peering across at him. "My counselor, Miss Pringle, must be a thousand years old."

The next morning, a warm and sunny one, I hopped onto my bicycle and headed for Corporation Beach. To get a good spot, I usually arrived early and today once again I had my pick of the best. So, I spread out my blanket, relaxed, and with sunglasses perched on my nose watched the steady stream of parents--the mothers towing gaggles of youngsters and the fathers lugging heavily laden coolers--traipsing across the sand.

The only problem I had with Corporation beach came in the form of Moose Monahan, a recent graduate of my high school and a summer resident of Cape Cod. Unfortunately, he had gotten a job as a life guard there. In school, he had been a fullback on the football team, a center on the basketball squad, and a catcher for the baseball nine. Being a jock and viewing himself as a big man on campus, he was used to snapping his fingers and having the girls come running to him. Frankly, I loathed him and rejected his advances. And believe me, there were many. Once, however, in a moment of weakness and at the urging of Amy, who, for some unknown reason, worshipped him, I had relented and gone out on a date with him. To my chagrin, I spent the evening in the back of his friend's Cadillac, trying to avoid his clutches.

If he was not flexing his muscles or doing handstands to impress the young women on the beach, he would amble over to me and say something stupid or inane such as "Hey, Laurie, you're in luck; I'm free tonight."

"Fortunately, I'm not," I would retort.

"You'd better be careful," he would warn, "or some other lucky girl may steal me right from under your nose."

"I can hardly wait." I would end the conversation by going into the water, not to swim but to cool off.

His arrogance and conceit were unbearable. I am willing to swear on a stack of Bibles that he gets up every morning and stands before the mirror, asking, "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, am I still fairest of them all?" Were I that mirror, I know what I would answer. Unfortunately, however, I promised my mother I would never use profanity; so, I cannot share it with anyone. Too, over time, his attempts to intimidate boys with whom I talked became obvious--blatantly so.

Amy, unfortunately, was always defending him. In particular, I recall one heated exchange of words she and I had concerning him. "I think you're being foolish and snobbish not to go out with him," she said.

"You have the nerve to call me snobbish," I retorted in disbelief, "while, at the same time, making excuses for Mr. Wonderful, who brags about being the big man on campus."

Unfazed, she replied, "Well, it's the truth; he is. So, what more could you ask for?"

"The only person Moose Monahan will ever love is himself," I snapped.

Willing to defend him till her death, she persisted, "I know at least a dozen friends who would jump at the chance for a date with him."

"Warn them that if they do go out with him, he'll try to score as many points in the back of a car as he does on the basketball court," I scoffed.

"Why not let a fantastic athlete like him score a few easy points on the first date," she replied with a wink. "That way he'll keep coming back for more."

"Amy, I can't believe what I'm hearing from you," I chided, shaking my head. "He must have a Svengali-like hold over you."

My reverie was broken by a familiar voice. "Laurie, we have to stop meeting this way."

I glanced up and to my surprise Mr. Sanderson was standing above me. "Oh, hi," I managed to reply, sitting up.

"I took your advice and thought I'd try this beach."

"I think you'll like it."

"Oh, I already do," he said, his eyes sparkling.

While we were talking, Moose was glaring at him from atop his lifeguard chair. Sensing those menacing eyes on him, he turned and pointed, "Is that Moose Monahan up there?"

"Yes, that's Mr. Wonderful," I replied curtly.

His eyes searched my face questioningly. "At the risk of getting too personal, may I ask you a question?"

"Of course."

"Are you and he dating?" he asked in a low composed voice. I broke out into laughter, prompting him to add, "I guess that means you're not."

"Of course not," I retorted with a wag of my head.

"I should've known you had better taste than that." Then, glancing at his watch, he said, "Oops, I came for an early swim and now I've got to be going; I have an afternoon class."

"Nice talking with you," I offered.

"That goes double for me," he replied, that easy smile of his playing at the corners of his mouth, "see you around."

As I watched his long, tanned, sturdy legs carry him out of sight farther down the beach, I murmured, "Yes, I hope so."

The next evening, an hour before closing time, he appeared once again at the restaurant. "Hello, again, Laurie," he said with deceptive calm.

"Hi," I replied eagerly, "how are you?"

"Wet," he said, taking off his raincoat, "it's pouring out there."

"What would my favorite customer like tonight?" I teased.

"You," he replied with a twinkle in his eye. "If you're not available, I'll have to settle for a clam roll and some iced tea."

I was sorely tempted to tell him I was, indeed, on the menu but held my tongue. After I personally brought him his order, he lingered a long time over his plate. We--I from the cash register and he from a nearby table--exchanged frequent glances. Near closing time, he got up to leave. "Laurie, it's still raining hard," he said, putting on his raincoat. "Do you have a ride home?"

"I've got my rain gear. Besides, it's only a short walk to the cottage."

"It's raining hard and a strong wind's blowing out there. I'd feel better if you'd let me drive you home." His inviting eyes had a sheen of persuasion.

"Okay." I tried to hide my enthusiasm. "I'll meet you outside at ten past eleven."

Unfortunately, the ride was not long enough. No sooner had I gotten into the car than I found myself in front of my aunt's cottage. I lingered with my hand on the doorknob not wanting the evening to end so quickly. "Have you ever been to Provincetown?" he asked, tilting his head toward mine.

"Many times," I retorted.

"How would you like to take a drive down there with me tomorrow?" His voice held a rasp of excitement. "I don't have a class and I need someone to show me around?"

"I'd love to," I blurted out.

"I'll have you back in time for work."

"I'm not working tomorrow so that shouldn't be a problem."

"For once in my life I've timed something right," he declared. "Dress casually and bring your bathing suit. How about my picking you up at ten o'clock in the morning?"

"See you then." I opened the door and ran up the stairs in delight. Then, for some strange reason, I found myself thinking about a favorite movie of mine, Singing in the Rain. Like Gene Kelly, I might have gone back out and started dancing and singing on the sidewalk had not my aunt, ever the worrywart, appeared, checking to be sure I had gotten home safely.

The next day I got up early in anticipation of the trip to Provincetown. Over my bathing suit I wore a pair of pink shorts, a blue belt, and a white jersey with a rusty rose border. Using the mirror, I patted down my eyebrows, pushed aside some errant tendrils of black hair, and ran a hand across my slender, willowy figure. Satisfied with what I saw, I awaited the arrival of Russell Sanderson. As I was getting into his car, he beamed his approval. "You look ravishingly patriotic," he quipped.

On our drive he asked me to point out some of my favorite places. So, we drove leisurely by Rock Harbor, Salt Pond, Nauset Beach, and Wellfleet Harbor. Soon we passed the rolling hills and windswept moors of Truro and came upon the impressive, tranquil sand dunes of Provincetown.

Parking the car, we sauntered past the craft shops, antique stores, artist studios, and sidewalk cafes that dot Commercial Street. On the deck of John's Footlong we shared a lunch of clam strips, fries, and onion rings. Glancing up from my plate, I caught him looking out at the water and stroking his chin. "A penny for your thoughts," I said.

Focusing back on me, he quipped, "For you, there's no charge." We shared a laugh and, turning more serious, he said, "The truth is I've been thinking how lucky I am."

"Oh?" I replied with a slight tinge of wonder in my voice. "In what way?"

His mouth curved with tenderness. "Having met you."

Blushing, I said absurdly, "You're easily satisfied."

"No," he replied with a gentle softness, "I've never been in the company of a woman as mature, unpretentious, and sincere as you." Reaching across the table, he took my hand in his. "For me, happiness is being with you."

The memory of the tone of his voice, the look on his face, and the pressure of his hand on mine will remain with me forever.

After wandering aimlessly through the rest of the town, we got back into the car and drove to Race Point. The beach extends as far as the eye can see. Walking some distance, we sought out an isolated part of the shore where we spread out our blanket. Although the surf rumbles in, making swimming difficult, I bravely edged my way out. "C'mon, Mr. Sanderson," I teased, splashing him. "Don't be a sissy."

"Please call me Russ," he replied, making his way out.

"Is that an order, Teach?" I joked, pushing him into the water.

"Definitely," he said, rising and dunking me in turn.

As we frolicked, somehow I ended up in his arms. The surf swirled around us and his lips sought mine. His first kiss was slow, gentle, and tantalizing. All I remember after that is being carried back to the blanket and looking up at him with dreamy eyes as his kisses rained down upon me. Within his warm embrace, I felt ecstatic and returned his kisses with abandon.

Later we walked, barefoot, along the beach, feeling the cool moistness of the sand. In my bliss, I lost track of time. He held me closely as we sat watching the sun, slowly sink beneath the shimmering surface of the water. "I think we should be getting back before your aunt sends out a search party," he said, glancing at his watch.

"At my back I always hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near," I replied, rising, reluctant to have these moments of ecstasy come to an end.

"I think you should definitely become a writer," he jested.

He put his arm around me and together we walked slowly back to the car. The darkness was falling rapidly as we, hand in hand, climbed up the wooden stairs to the parking lot. Suddenly, on the top step, loomed Moose Monahan and a roly-poly friend. They were carrying fishing poles and reeking of alcohol. "Hey, Sanderson, stop robbing the cradle; you're too old to be dating high school girls." He leered, blocking our path.

As if sensing what was to come, Russ heaved a sigh of resignation. "That's for Laurie to decide."

"Waving a finger menacingly in his face, Moose bellowed, "Besides, you know Concordia High's policy forbids faculty to date students.

"Would you mind stepping aside and letting us go by?" He spoke calmly but forcefully.

"Are you going to make me, Jailbaiter?" he snarled.

In a single motion Russ grabbed hold of Moose's arm and turned, flipping him over his shoulder. Fortunately, he landed, unhurt, on the sand. Stunned, he sprawled there while Russ took my hand and led me past the astonished friend.

Aside from his rugged good looks, I liked Russ's modesty, openness, and maturity. Because I always acted grown-up--too much so for my age, according to my mother--I found that latter trait of his most appealing. With the death of my father and my mother's health issues, I had come to assume more responsibility at home. At my after-school job--I cashiered at a supermarket-- I worked hard to save money; in school, to get good grades. One thing was for sure; even had I the time I would not have enjoyed getting drunk at night or racing around town in a fancy car looking for trouble.

So it was Russ and I began to date. Because of Moose we avoided Corporation Beach and, instead, spent time together at other ones. Paine's Creek became our favorite. If we were not bicycling along the Cape Cod Canal, we were doing so on the eight-mile path within Nickerson State Park. Upon occasion we even went deep-sea fishing. And, of course, we could not leave the Cape without spending some time on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Island. The truth is, however, that no matter where we were or what we were doing, as long as we were together we were happy.

Unlike many of my friends who were at war with their parents, I was close to my mother. The death of my father had drawn us even closer. So, during one of her weekend visits to the cottage, I confided in her. "Mom, I have something I'd like to discuss with you."

"Of course," she replied, looking at me over a copy of the Cape Cod Times.

"This summer I've started dating an older fellow."

"That doesn't surprise me; you've always been mature for your age. "Sometimes too much so," she retorted. "With your father's death I guess we've both aged emotionally beyond our years."

"His age isn't the issue," I said, choosing my words with care. "The problem is he happens to be my guidance counselor."

Putting the paper aside, she surveyed me closely. "I'm surprised he's allowed himself to become involved with you. School policy expressly forbids faculty and students from dating."

"Mom, it wasn't something either of us planned," I replied, feeling a need to come to his defense. "It just happened."

"Yes, sometimes that's the way it is with love," she said, lost in thought. "You must realize, however, that if word of your relationship gets out in school, it'll be difficult for both of you."

I shrugged. "Frankly, I don't care what anyone thinks or says. He's a warm, sincere, and caring person whom I enjoy being with."

She broke the awkward silence that followed, saying, "I'm not thrilled about this affair of yours but I appreciate your discussing it with me. In the past you've never once given me cause to doubt your maturity and judgment." Her face creased into a smile. "I certainly don't intend to start now. For your sake I hope things work out."

Like all good things in life, that summer of bliss, too, was coming to an end. As Labor Day approached, to my surprise Russ became more aloof and brooding. The Friday before the holiday we went to a concert on Nauset Beach where he was unusually reserved and quiet. Later, at an Italian restaurant as we lingered over pizza, he said, "Laurie, we have to talk about how we're going to handle our return to Concordia High." He paused and heaved a heavy sigh. "In a few days we'll both be back there."

"I don't want to think about it," I replied, taking his hand.

"I'm beginning to feel Moose was right," he murmured, stirring uneasily on his chair.

"Right about what?" I demanded, alarmed.

"I should never have allowed you to become so deeply involved with me." Frustration showed on his face.

"It's the best thing that's ever happened to me," I replied, trying to reassure him.

"I see nothing but trouble for us."

"Together we can face it." I squeezed his hand.

"I'm a member of the faculty and you're a student," he lamented. "Never the twain shall meet."

"How can you talk like that?" Until this week I had never seen him in anything but a cheerful and buoyant mood.

"Because it's the truth." His eyes were wistful and misty. "I'm going to make arrangements for you to be assigned to another counselor."

"Okay," I replied, aware of the awkwardness for both of us at my having him as my counselor.

"I've enjoyed your company this summer but the whole affair just doesn't make any sense." His brows drew together in an agonized frown.

"Since when does love have to make sense," I whispered.

"I just don't see any future for us," he replied, shaking his head. "I'm certainly in no position to marry you."

His last words put me on the defensive. "Who said anything about marriage?"

"I wouldn't have it any other way and right now I can't afford it." With a shrug of resignation, he looked away.

"Oh, Russ." I despaired.

"I don't want to jeopardize my job. Concordia High has one of the best salary scales in the state." He hesitated, stroking his chin. "It's also within easy commuting distance of Boston University where I can get my master's degree. And I need a year's experience as a high school counselor before I can get anywhere in public education."

"What can we do then?" I asked in anguish.

He stared at me, shaking his head. "Do you think I could stand passing you in the corridor without wanting to take you into my arms?"

"It would only be for a year."

"It might as well be forever," he burst out. "I refuse to go skulking around, ashamed to be seen together as we've done here on the Cape."

"Then, I'll transfer to another high school."

"I couldn't ask you to do that," he replied, his eyes seizing mine. "This is your senior year. Why should you spend it at some other place?"

"Because I'd do anything to please you," I murmured.

"Then forget about this summer and me," he replied, covering his face with his hands.

"You can't mean that?" I gasped.

"You must." His eyes, like talons, clawed at me.

Overwhelmed by love, I offered to do anything to please him. Unconditional surrender to put it bluntly. But, notwithstanding, he spurned all my offers. Suddenly, I found myself seething with anger and humiliation. "After all we've been through this summer, I can't believe you would do this to me," I said, raising my voice. "Obviously you never cared for me; I was just a convenient toy for you to play with on the beach. Now that summer's over, you want to cast me aside like a piece of driftwood." Giving him a withering look, I kept up the verbal onslaught. "And I thought you were something special. What a fool I was! Moose Monahan's more of a man than you'll ever be. At least he tells a girl up front he wants to go to bed with her." In anger unkind words are said and, suffice to say, at that moment I was fuming. My supply of insults depleted, I jumped up and ran out of the restaurant, tears streaming down my cheeks.

* * *

Without Russ my senior year at Concordia High became a lesson in agony. My only escape was to hurl myself with abandon into my school work. Whenever I walked down the corridor and saw him, my heart would sink. Once our eyes met and lingered on one another before he did an abrupt about face and hurried off in the opposite direction. Despite my anger over his shabby treatment of me, I wanted to run after him. Oh, how I longed to throw my arms around his neck once again and confess how much I still loved him. But what little pride I had left made such an emotional outburst impossible.

One day at lunch Amy made a face and said, "Have you seen how Miss Reynolds always eats lunch with Mr. Sanderson?"

"I hadn't noticed," I lied. To see him with another woman made me furious.

"When the bell rings for lunch, she beats her students out of class in her haste to eat with him," Ginny Peters, a freckled-faced friend of ours, chimed in.

"Everyone in the school knows she's got the hots for him," Amy sneered, taking a bite out of her cheese sandwich.

Because I could not stand listening to the conversation, I suddenly got up.

"Laurie, where are you going?" Amy hollered. "You haven't eaten a thing."

I did not answer but hurried outside to get some fresh air and calm down.

In the afternoon I was waiting for the late bus when I happened to glance over at the parking lot. In animated conversation, Russ and Miss Reynolds were standing by his car. With his foot resting on the rear bumper, he was bent slightly forward in that relaxed and at-ease position I had come to know so well. Her coquettish smile and inviting eyes betrayed her strong interest in him. She kept touching his arm as if to emphasize some point. Finally he went to the passenger side of his car and gallantly opened the door as she, smiling, climbed in. With her eyes attentive to his every move, together they drove off to some unknown destination. In anger and jealousy, I forgot about my bus and started walking down the long school driveway toward home.

I had offers for dates from other fellows but I was still too madly in love with Russ to go out with anybody else. Amy became concerned about my growing isolation. As for my summer affair--or fling might be a better word for it--with my guidance counselor, I did not confide in her. I thought that Moose might blab about it but, to both my surprise and relief, he went away to college without saying a word to anyone. I assumed he was too ashamed at having been thrashed by Russ at Race Point Beach. Any such revelation would, of course, tarnish his macho image.

The date of the annual Christmas dance, which was one of the biggest social events of the school year, was fast approaching. Amy was haunting me to go. Friday--a week before the dance--at lunch she asked, "Are you sure you won't go to the dance, Laurie?"

"I'm not interested," I replied curtly.

‎"You've become a real stick-in-the mud ever since you came back from summer vacation," she chided.

I stared at her, wondering if she had found out about my affair with Russ.

"I've got the ideal man for you," she replied, looking like the proverbial cat that ate the canary.

"And who may that be, pray tell?" I asked with thinly veiled skepticism.


"You have to be kidding." I laughed, relieved that she had not learned about Russ and me.

"He's home from college for the holidays. When he learned you weren't going to the dance, he asked me if I thought you might go with him. You've turned him down so many times before he doesn't have the nerve to ask you himself." Pausing, she frowned in exasperation. "So, I'm his messenger."

My thoughts flashed back to Russ and Miss Reynolds. I was still seething with jealousy.

"Well?" Amy said, tapping her foot impatiently. "What should I tell him?"

Knowing how much Russ disliked Moose, I decided to get my revenge. "Tell him I'd be delighted to go with him," I replied, swallowing my pride.

The night of the dance, as soon as I climbed into his car, I got the odor of alcohol. I should have stepped right back out but I did not; for, I was hell-bent on hurting Russ the way he had hurt me. "Hey, Baby, tonight, at long last, the Moose'll make a woman of you," he exclaimed, slapping me on the knee.

I was tempted to ask him to make a man of himself first but held my tongue.

"I can hardly wait to return to the high school gymnasium where I set the all-time scoring record in basketball," he enthused.

On the way he stopped off at the football field. Like a fanatic worshipping at a religious shrine, he sat staring at the scoreboard. "Did you see last year's Thanksgiving football game against Lexicon High?" he asked.

"No," I replied.

Looking at me as if I had committed a mortal sin, he said, "You missed the game of your life. I scored five touchdowns."

Arriving at the dance, he soon became the center of attention and savored every moment of it. "How are you doing at college, Moose?" Bill Harper, a senior jock, asked.

"Still breaking and setting all kinds of scoring records," he boasted, slapping him on the back.

With each dance Moose pulled me closer to him. All the while his hands would be trying to roam over more than my back. At the end of each musical number he would disappear with some jock friends. He needs to bask in their adoration, I thought. Already tired of fighting off his advances, I welcomed the respite. But soon he was back, reeking of alcohol and tottering around the floor. Clearly, he had been going to the boys' room to drink.

On the dance floor I glanced over at the chaperones and flinched--so hard that I startled Moose. "Are you okay, Baby?" he asked.

"Yes," I lied, continuing to dance.

That involuntary start occurred when, among the soft lights and colorful streamers, my gaze fell upon Russ Sanderson, standing sullenly in a corner. Across that crowed room with the music blaring away, our glances met and I could sense his disgust at seeing me with Moose. He turned and disappeared into one of the exercise rooms.

Later Mr. Kelly, a popular, mild-mannered, and elderly English teacher, came over to Moose, saying, "Young man, you know that school policy doesn't allow drinking at dances. If you continue sneaking drinks, I'll have to ask you to leave."

"Hey, Buster, don't threaten me," he roared. "You're not just talking to some Joe Blow, you know. You're conversing with Moose Monahan--the best damn athlete ever to graduate from this place.

By this time Russ, hearing the commotion, had come over to support his fellow faculty member. Turning to him, Moose taunted, "Look what I got here, Sanderson." I cringed as he pointed to me.

By the look on Russ's face I knew he was doing a slow burn. As he turned to leave, Moose hollered, "Her taste in men has improved since your fling with her on the Cape last summer." Remembering his past humiliation and thirsting for revenge, he swung at the counselor. Deflecting the blow and whirling around, Russ pounced on him with a fury that a sober athlete--much less a drunken one--would have had difficulty withstanding. With his fist raised to deliver a blow, he, as if suddenly coming to his senses, lowered his arm, got up, and walked off. Several teachers rushed over, pulled Moose to his feet, and led him away. Soon afterward Russ left the gymnasium and, in embarrassment and shame, I followed not far behind him.

Monday morning my heart dropped as I was called down to the principal's office. I was sitting and waiting nervously on a wooden bench in the reception area when Russ entered. Our eyes met and, at that instant, telepathically I felt he was offering me support and reassurance. Without knocking, he opened the door and went into the principal's office. Through the wall I could hear their voices. "I'm shocked at your outrageous behavior, Russell," Mr. Bentham declared.

"Since when has defending yourself against an unprovoked assault become outrageous?" he demanded.

"That unfortunate incident would never have happened if you had shown some discretion and not dated an immature and oversexed teenager," the headmaster retorted.

I cowered on the cold bench, knowing Moose had told him about Russ and me.

"I resent your referring to Laurie Cotter in such a mean and nasty way." I admired Russ's attempt to defend me.

"And I resent your heaping ridicule and disgrace upon my school," the principal jeered. After a long pause he ordered, "I forbid you ever to see that girl again?"

"I'm afraid I can't do that."

"What do you mean you can't do that?" the older man demanded.

"Just what I said."

"Then I shall expect you to resign immediately," he shouted.

"And if I don't?"

"I'll see that you never get a job in public education again." Softening his tone, he said, "On the other hand, if you'll submit your resignation, I'll see that you get a good recommendation thus enabling you to apply for another job as a school counselor. Is that clear?"

"Very much so," he replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "In your mind I'm a despicable human being but, nevertheless, you're perfectly willing to palm me off onto another school system." I could hear Russ rise abruptly from his chair.

"Now what do you intend to do about this silly girl who's infatuated with you?" Mr. Bentham persisted.

"I think I'll ask her to marry me," he snapped, "and I may even invite you to the wedding." Then he came bursting out of the office, giving me a wink as he passed.

I was proud of the way he handled the headmaster's harsh, verbal attack. He could have thrown me to the wolves and tried to save his own skin but, instead, he vigorously defended me. Although I was flabbergasted at his last statement, I certainly did not take it seriously. I knew he was returning Mr. Bentham's sarcasm with a double dose of his own.

To my surprise, my mother suddenly appeared. "What are you doing here?" I exclaimed.

"I got a call at work from Mr. Bentham, inviting me to join you and him at a meeting." Heaving a heavy sigh, she shrugged and sat down next to me. "So, here I am."

"It has to do with the fight at the dance," I said nervously.

"That among other things," she replied, giving me a supportive pat on the back. "After you walked home from the dance, you told me what had happened and that you had nothing to do with the fight. And I believed you; for you've always been honest and forthright with me. One thing for sure, I didn't come here today to let Mr. Bentham browbeat us."

I was relieved that she had come. With her direct, no nonsense approach, I knew she would be more than a match for the principal, who with his wedge-shaped head, wrinkled brow, and large ears had the look of a pit bull and the personality to match.

Soon he opened the door of his office and motioned us inside. While he sat down imperiously behind a large, mahogany desk, we took our places on the two armchairs facing him. Although he was intimidating to me, my mother, fearless, got right down to business. "What's the problem?" she demanded.

"Did you know your daughter and Mr. Sanderson, a guidance counselor here, were having an affair?" His face carried a smug look.

"Mr. Bentham, I resent your use of the word, affair, and your tone of accusation," she shot back. "But in answer to your question, let me say, Yes, I know that during the summer she went out upon occasion with a nice young man who happens to work for the town."

Surprised at our communication and mom's feistiness, he softened his tone. "School policy prohibits faculty from dating students."

"If you've got a problem with a particular faculty member, then you should discuss it with him." While he was fidgeting in his chair, she went on. "As for my daughter, she's always been open and honest with me. Never once has she caused me trouble or heartache." She gave me another approving pat on the shoulder. "I might add that she's always been an outstanding student and exemplary school citizen."

"Yes," he replied grudgingly.

"Then why are you dragging us into your office today?" she demanded.

"I'm trying to get to the root cause of a serious altercation that took place at the Christmas dance." Taking out a handkerchief, he wiped a bead of sweat from his brow.

"My daughter had no involvement in that fracas between Moose Monahan and the faculty member. So, why is she here?"

"Eh--eh--" he stammered.

Relentlessly, mom pursued him. "I want you to know that I intend to go to the superintendent--and, if necessary, the school board--and report your shabby treatment of this innocent girl." She arose, taking my hand and pulling me to my feet.

"Now, now, Mrs. Cotter, let's not be hasty," he pleaded. "If I've offended you and your daughter, I apologize. I was just trying to do my duty."

"Your duty doesn't include harassing a good school citizen," she lectured, waving a finger at him. "If you or anybody else in this place pesters her about this incident, I'll see you in court. Now I'm taking her home to recover from the shock of this senseless meeting."

"Yes, of course." He was quivering.

Turning to me, she said calmly, "Come on, dear; let's go." As we left the office, I felt pleased at my mother's performance.

That evening we were sitting in the kitchen discussing her confrontation with the principal. "I really appreciated your coming to the meeting with Mr. Bentham," I said. "I was scared to death."

"That's what mothers are for," she replied reassuringly. Studying me closely, she asked, "After all that's happened, are you sure you want to remain at Concordia High?"

I shrugged. "As if I have an alternative."

"I'll send you to Hartwick Academy if you want? Today I spoke with the director of admissions. In view of your excellent academic record, I'm sure they'll take you."

"It's so expensive," I replied.

"We'll manage somehow. It's only for one semester and you'll have to commute. But you must decide quickly before the second semester starts."

"I don't know what to do," I moaned.

Suddenly the front doorbell rang. While I was agonizing over the school decision, my mother went and opened the door.

"Good evening, Mrs. Cotter, I'm Russ Sanderson." At the sound of that familiar voice all those fond memories of our summer of bliss came rolling across my mind.

Mom hit him with both barrels of her anger. "You've got some nerve showing your face around here."

"If I may, I'd like to talk with Laurie," he pleaded.

"You certainly may not," she snapped.

Gesturing, he persisted, "I want to apologize to her."

"Don't you think you've caused her enough trouble without--"

I entered the front room, interrupting her. "There's no need to apologize," I said to him. "I want to thank you for coming to my defense in the principal's office."

Surprise showed on his face. "You heard me and Bentham going at it?"

"The way you were screaming at one another, I'm surprised the whole school didn't hear it."

"I understand your mother also gave a good account of herself," he said, smiling at her. His compliment brought her verbal attack to a temporary halt. "I feel terrible at having caused this problem." He clenched his fists in frustration.

"What do you intend to do about it?" my mother demanded.

"I think I've come up with a solution," he replied, turning to me, "but it's got to have Laurie's seal of approval."

"Oh?" I offered, intrigued.

"Well, don't keep us in suspense," mom growled, "spit it out."

Looking longingly at me, he said, "Laurie, will you marry me?"

I exulted. "Then, you meant what you said in the principal's office this morning?"

"Every word of it except inviting him to the wedding," he quipped.

"Oh, Russ," I exclaimed in delight. Meanwhile my mother had settled onto the sofa in shock.

"You haven't answered my question," he said, his blue eyes capturing my dark ones.

"Perhaps I need to hear you say it again."

"I'll shout it from the roof tops if you want," he exclaimed. "Will you marry me, Laurie?"

"I thought you'd never ask," I teased. Then, just as that afternoon at Race Point Beach, I found myself in his warm embrace.

While he and I took turns smothering each other with kisses, my mother, embarrassed and confused, got up. "I'm going into the kitchen to put on the coffee pot and make some sandwiches. You two have a lot to talk about."

"Mrs. Cotter, I didn't mean to be rude by--eh--taking the liberty of kissing your daughter, it's just that I--eh--love her," Russ stammered.

"Yes, so I've noticed." Then, with that quip she shuffled off to the kitchen.

When she had gone, I pulled him to me and whispered, "Come on, don't stop now. You've got to make up for lost time--four months to be exact."

"Gladly," he replied as his lips hungrily sought mine.

Later, in the kitchen over half-filled coffee cups, we held hands and could not take our eyes off one another. Beneath the table, I could feel the gentle nudge of his knee against mine. "Oh, by the way, I handed in my resignation effective immediately to the superintendent."

"Oh, Russ, I'm sorry it had to come to that point," I said, giving his hand a squeeze. "Just before you came, mom and I were talking about the possibility of my switching to a private school."

"That will have to be your decision. I was tempted to fight to remain at Concordia High to spite old Bentham but I didn't want to ruin your senior year there."

"I feel so bad that you've given up so much--the job, money, and experience. What will you do for work?"

"But look what I've gained," he retorted, hugging me. "I'll dig ditches if I have to as long as I can be with you."

''What about all those lunch periods spent with Miss Reynolds?" I teased.

He looked at me with amusement. "So you noticed that? Why do you think I started brown-bagging it and eating in the guidance office?"

"One afternoon I saw her get into your car," I confessed. "I could tell she had a crush on you."

He laughed. "Oh, Laurie, that must've been the afternoon she asked me for a ride to Joey's Auto Repair Shop so she could pick up her car which had undergone a tune-up. Without you, nothing mattered--not even Miriam Reynolds." Then, with a quizzical frown he asked, "Why did you go to the Christmas dance with Moose Monahan?"

I blushed. "You'll never know what torment I went through at seeing you in school and being unable to talk or hold you. When I saw you with Miss Reynolds, jealousy consumed me. So much so I wanted to hurt you." I hesitated and heaved a heavy sigh. "What better way to do that than to go to the dance on the arm of a man I knew you hated."

"You really know how to hurt a guy," he quipped, kissing me. "But I deserved it for thinking I could walk away from somebody I loved as much as you."

"Promise me you'll always remain at my side," I murmured.

"I'll never be more than a kiss away," he whispered, his lips ravenously seeking mine.

* * *

With my head held high, I finished my senior year at Concordia High. Not long after graduation Russ and I got married. He took a job as a guidance counselor in a neighboring town and got his master's degree by taking night courses.

Meanwhile, thanks to a full scholarship, I attended Boston University where I majored in journalism. I now work as an editor for a fashion magazine and my first novel, Love Just Happens, will be in bookstores next month. All of my success I, of course, attribute to the excellent advice I got from a wonderful guidance counselor.

# # #

Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-30 show above.)