© 2016 by Linda Crist (Texbard)
Disclaimer: This story, though rated PG, covers what may be a controversial subject for some, student-teacher relationships. It is inspired partly by the movie Loving Annabelle, and partly by a news article I read about a father who had his 16-year-old daughter’s 19-year-old girlfriend arrested for statutory rape, even though the relationship had started while they were both students at the same high school. This story is in no way advocating high school student-teacher involvement.
Jessica Ramsey looked up from grading test papers, the beauty of a sunny winter day distracting her from her work. Teaching high school history classes had not been her first choice in a career, but it was a tradeoff for her first love and the other half of her job, coaching the girls’ junior varsity and varsity softball teams. Three classes a day wasn’t really so bad, and she had enjoyed getting to know her students. Each day of her first year as a teacher had, so far, brought new revelations and new challenges, and she often wondered who was really teaching whom.
Peering out the window, she spotted Courtney, one of the high school seniors in her second period class. Courtney had been unusually subdued during class, and now she sat alone on a bench outside the building, her shoulders slumped and her head down. It was a little after three o’clock and most students had already vacated campus, unless they had after school clubs or athletics practice.
As she watched, Courtney lifted her head and stared across campus, then wiped the back of her hand angrily across her eyes. She followed Courtney’s gaze, which rested firmly on Zack and Olivia, two other class members. She recalled seeing Zack and Courtney holding hands in the hallway only a few weeks earlier. Now his arm was firmly draped across Olivia’s shoulders, as they walked together toward the student parking lot. It was all too clear. “Young love,” she murmured. “And young heart break.”
Jessica was only twenty-two herself, but realized she wouldn’t go back to being a teenager again for anything. She pushed the paperwork aside and stood up, then made her way down the hall and outside to Courtney’s bench. “Hey there.” She sat down and tentatively placed her hand on Courtney’s, which grasped the edge of the bench in a white-knuckled death grip.
“Hey,” Courtney muttered, not looking up, as another tear trickled down her face and hit Jessica’s hand.
Jessica brushed it away, noting the embarrassed flush on Courtney’s cheek. “If you need to talk about it, I’m a good listener.”
Courtney looked cautiously up and the dam burst, as she clung to Jessica in a tight hug, crying her heart out. “Why doesn’t he love me anymore?” She gasped through her tears. “I thought Olivia was my friend. Friends don’t steal other friend’s boyfriends.” She continued to cry as Zack and Olivia, oblivious to them, got in Zack’s car and drove away.
“You want to come back inside for a minute?” Jessica nodded her head toward the nearby double doors. “I could use some company.”
“Yeah.” Courtney sniffled and fished a tissue from her purse, then blew her nose. She mutely followed Jessica back inside the school building. They entered the classroom and Courtney walked over to the window, looking outside.
“I don’t think Olivia intentionally set out to hurt you.” Jessica joined her, and smoothed a lock of blonde hair out of Courtney’s blue eyes.
“But I’d never do that to her.” Courtney sniffled, as a fresh wave of tears welled up.
“You’re a pretty girl,” Jessica soothed her. “I’ll bet you’ve been out with several of the boys, haven’t you?”
“Y – yes. Well, not this year. This year it was just Zack, but last year and sophomore year, yeah, sure.” Courtney’s brows furrowed. “Why do you ask? Please don’t tell me there are other fish in the sea. That’s what my mother said, and you know, right now, Zack is the only fish I wanted to catch.”
“No, I understand. I’ve been in your place not so long ago myself.” Jessica smiled at her. “Just between you and me, I was thinking maybe Olivia hasn’t had so many boyfriends.”
“Um, now that you mention it, no.” Courtney’s eyes narrowed in thought. “I guess if I was her and Zack paid attention to me, I probably couldn’t help myself. He’s so cute.”
“Yes he is.” Jessica handed off another tissue, watching some of the sparkle return to the teen’s eyes. “And I know it hurts to see him with someone else, but you deserve to be with someone who will treat you right. Asking out one of your good friends wasn’t so cool on Zack’s part, either.”
“He’s the first boy I ever went on a car date with, no parents driving us.” Courtney released a trembling sigh, but her tears were starting to subside. “I’m just glad we never. You know.” She smiled shyly as a fresh blush dusted her cheeks.
“I’m glad to hear that, but is this your first broken heart?” Jessica watched the girl nod affirmatively. “You know what always helps me when I have a broken heart?”
“What?” Courtney’s interest piqued and she looked hopefully into Jessica’s hazel eyes.
“Ice cream.” Jessica fished in her purse for her keys. “I need to finish grading a few more papers. My car is sitting on almost empty. If you’ll go gas it up for me, when you get back, I’ll take you out for a double-dip cone, my treat. Sound good?” She pressed her car keys and two twenty-dollar bills into Courtney’s hand.
“You’re going to let me drive your car?” Courtney’s eyes grew wide.
“Sure. Why not?” Jessica replied. “You have your license don’t you?”
“Yes.” Courtney looked as if she might drop the keys.
“No tickets?” Jessica smiled as Courtney stood up just a little bit taller.
“Not a one.” Courtney placed the money in her purse.
“Well then, I trust you.” Jessica patted her on the arm. “Go on. I’ll be ready when you get back. I can hear a chocolate chip cookie dough cone calling my name.”
“That’s my favorite, too. Thank you, Miss Ramsey!”
“Jessica,” Jessica corrected her. “When we’re outside of school hours, you can call me by my first name.
“Thank you, Jessica.” Courtney smiled brightly and turned to go on her errand, one Zack Johnson quite forgotten.
After ice cream, Jessica took Courtney home, and went inside to say hello to Courtney's parents. Courtney had called them before they went for ice cream to explain where she was, and why she wasn’t home yet.
Courtney's father appeared to be a man of few words, but her mother was the perfect hostess, flashing a charming smile and pouring Jessica a cup of freshly brewed coffee, which she gratefully accepted. After Jessica chatted with Courtney’s mother and finished her coffee, Courtney eagerly led her into her bedroom to show her a collection of dried homecoming mums, science fair ribbons, and a scrapbook full of high school girl memorabilia.
A gruff voice interrupted them, as Courtney's father opened the door without knocking first. “Courtney, shouldn’t you be getting to your homework?”
“Mr. Williams.” Jessica stood. “I'm sorry. I didn't realize how late it was getting.”
He merely nodded and left them alone, leaving the door open behind him.
“Thanks for the ice cream.” Courtney walked Jessica to the front door and stepped out onto the front porch. “It did make me feel a whole lot better.” She looked down, digging the toe of her sneaker into the pavement.
“But not completely better?” Jessica squeezed her hand in sympathy.
“Guess that will take some time, huh?” Courtney blinked, holding back fresh tears that stung her eyes. Jessica's fingers were soft and warm against her skin, and she almost forgot to be sad for a moment.
“Unfortunately, yes.” Jessica pulled her into a hug. “There’s no getting around it. Most break-ups hurt for a while. Hey.” She released the teen. “Would you like to come over Saturday night for a sleepover? We can watch movies and pop some popcorn, maybe make some burgers.”
“Sure.” Courtney's eyes lit up. “That would be a lot of fun.”
Jessica wrote down her address and phone number, then hugged Courtney one more time before going to her car. She smiled and waved into the darkness as she drove away, feeling a giddy happiness she couldn't place.
Even though Courtney was still in high school, Jessica had connected with her, and they had shared some deep thoughts and several laughs over their ice cream. She found herself looking forward to Saturday night. It would probably be good for Courtney to have something to look forward to as well, rather than dwelling on Zack and Olivia going out for Valentine’s Day.
As soon as her Saturday afternoon soccer practice was over, Courtney raced home to shower, then quickly packed her overnight case, and tossed her sleeping bag and pillow into the trunk of her car. Her father wasn't home, but her mother kissed her on the cheek good-bye, and she was off to Jessica's. She typed the address into her phone’s map application, and discovered that Jessica only lived about two miles away, in one of the brand new loft-style apartment complexes that were popping up all over the city.
“Awesome sauce,” she muttered to herself. The thought of having her own place seemed so glamorous, and Courtney was eagerly looking forward to going away to school in the Fall. In no time at all, she stood on Jessica's landing, and knocked at the door.
“Hey there.” Jessica shooed her inside, pushing her long red hair out of her eyes with the back of her hand. “Just a second.” She put down a large mixing bowl and hugged Courtney. “You feeling better than you were earlier this week?” They hadn’t talked much since going for ice cream, other than the usual student-teacher exchanges in class.
“I am now.” Courtney smiled and followed Jessica into a small kitchen. “Is that brownie mix?” Courtney peered hopefully into the bowl.
“Yeah.” Jessica held out the mixing spoon. “Wanna taste?”
Courtney smiled and accepted the bite, closing her eyes in pleasure. “Wow, that's really good.” As she opened her eyes, a dark-haired woman entered the kitchen, and Courtney jumped. “Whoa.”
“Oh, sorry. I should've warned you.” Jessica smiled. “Courtney, this is my room-mate, Sarah. She's headed out of town for a week of vacation.”
“Hi.” Courtney wiped a hand on her jeans and held it out. “Nice to meet you.”
“Hi.” Sarah ignored the hand and set a large duffel bag down in the entryway. She scowled and motioned at Jessica. “Can I have a word with you, please?” She glanced at Courtney. “In private?”
“Hold on.” Jessica's hazel eyes rolled skyward and she put the spoon back in the bowl. “What?” Jessica’s tone was irritated, and both women disappeared behind a door, which Sarah slammed shut.
Courtney heard escalating voices, but couldn't make out the words. After a few minutes, Sarah came barreling out of the bedroom, snatched up the duffel bag, and stormed out the front door without a backward glance.
A sheepish-looking Jessica reappeared, and perched on a stool on the other side of the breakfast bar that opened between the kitchen and the living room. “Sorry about that.” Jessica sighed. “We've been roommates since we were sophomores in college. Been having some problems. I think we've just grown apart.”
“Sorry to hear that.” Courtney could see the tension clearly evident in Jessica's features. “Where did you go to college?”
“I went to Texas Tech on a softball scholarship. Crazy times.” Jessica grinned. “You wanna see my yearbooks?”
“That would be really cool.” Courtney followed Jessica over to a set of shelves.
They spent an hour looking through the books, while Jessica shared funny stories from her college days. It made Courtney look forward to her own college career more than ever. After looking at the books, they finally got around to grilling burgers and baking the brownies. Later, they popped a bowl full of popcorn, which they shared over cups of hot cocoa in front of the television.
The clock struck midnight as the credits rolled on the second horror movie of the evening. Jessica stood up and stretched. “Way past my bedtime.” She picked up their plates and stacked them in the sink, while Courtney made her way into the bathroom to brush her teeth and change into her pajamas. She came out and leaned in the kitchen doorway, watching Jessica wipe down the counter top.
“Do you mind if I put my sleeping bag on the floor in your room, instead of on the couch out here?” Courtney blushed. “That last movie, I may be dreaming about the Valentine’s Day miner from hell tonight.”
“I won't have a guest sleeping on the floor,” Jessica dried her hands off and ruffled Courtney's long blonde hair. “You can share with me. It's a king-sized bed. Plenty of room.”
“You don't mind?” Courtney nibbled her lower lip. “I hate being such a big baby.”
“No problem.” Jessica smiled and winked at her. “Truth is, I might be dreaming about murdering slashers too, so I wouldn't mind some company.”
Jessica led her into the bedroom and got her settled beneath the covers. After brushing her own teeth, she joined Courtney, and switched off the lamp on the nightstand. Pale light streamed into the room through sheer curtains, and Courtney could just make out Jessica’s profile on the pillow next to her.
“Sarah didn’t seem very happy about me being here,” Courtney commented.
“No,” Jessica answered hesitantly. “She wasn’t. Don’t take it personally. She’s angry at me, not you.”
“What’s she angry about?”
“It’s complicated.” Jessica rolled to her side, facing Courtney. “I guess you’ve noticed there’s only one bedroom in the apartment.”
“Yeah.” Courtney also turned to her side. “There’s talk around school. You know, softball coach and all. Kids are stupid sometimes.”
“And sometimes they’re pretty intuitive,” Jessica replied. “Sarah and I were more than friends.”
“We broke up right before Christmas, but we both signed the lease on this place and it isn’t up for four more months. We’ve been taking turns sleeping on the couch. We were together for three years, but after graduation and moving here to Dallas, things fell apart pretty quickly. She wants to live in a smaller town, but this job was something I couldn’t pass up. It’s rare to be offered a position coaching varsity softball right out of college. I had to take it. We’ve been fighting pretty much since February a year ago, when I had my first interview with the school.”
“That’s a long time to live with someone you’re fighting with.” Courtney laughed lightly. “Although I guess I fight with my parents a lot, and I’ve been living with them for almost eighteen years. I know it’s not the same thing, but still.”
“No, not quite the same.” Jessica smiled and then grew sober. “So the kids at school have me figured out, huh? I’m not exactly in the closet, but I don’t flaunt it at school, or at least I try not to. It obviously doesn’t bother you.”
“No, not at all.” Courtney replied. “I’ve experimented some on both sides of the fence. Several of the other kids also have. I’m not sure yet, which way I’ll go. Breaking up with Zack, that was like so painful, you know? But kissing girls, that was kind of nice, too. So I just don’t know. Maybe I’m bi.”
In the low light, the eye contact between them was suddenly way too intense, and Jessica rolled onto her back, tucking her hands behind her head on the pillow. “You don’t have to pick one side or the other. Bi, straight, gay, fluid. Whatever you are, you’ll figure it out all in your own good time. Just don’t be afraid of what you find out.”
“Were you?” Courtney touched Jessica’s arm.
“Yeah, I was.” Jessica closed her eyes, sorting through conflicting emotions. “Still am, sometimes. The school district has included sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination policy, but that doesn’t mean every parent at the school agrees with that policy. One disgruntled parent drumming up false accusations because they don’t like the lesbian softball coach, and my career could be destroyed.”
“That’s terrible.” Courtney’s voice rose in protective anger. “Who you love shouldn’t matter.”
“It shouldn’t, but to a lot of people it does, unfortunately. Hopefully by the time you’re out of college, and wherever you end up, things will be different, if you do determine you’re bi or gay. Fear is an ugly thing to have to face every day.”
“But facing it makes you brave.” Courtney scooted closer, and Jessica could feel her body heat next to her. “I won’t be afraid, and I’m not now.”
Before she had time to protest, Jessica felt Courtney shift again, and then the younger girl leaned over her, and brushed her lips against Jessica’s. Warning bells went off, warring with rising passion. “Dammit,” Jessica murmured. Giving in to feelings she’d been fighting for almost a week, she wrapped an arm around the back of Courtney’s neck and drew her in for a deeper kiss.
It went on for much longer than she intended, as her heart raced and her body tingled pleasantly. Then she felt Courtney’s hand slip under her t-shirt. Jessica’s eyes flew open and she reached down and grabbed Courtney’s wrist. “No.” She carefully removed Courtney’s hand and sat up. “You’re very pretty. And intelligent, and funny, but we can’t do this.”
“I’ll be eighteen in two months,” Courtney protested.
“And you’ll be my student for the next four,” Jessica reminded her.
“I won’t tell anyone. I promise. No one will have to know.” Courtney touched Jessica’s face, brushing her thumb against her cheek.
“I would know.” Jessica gently pushed Courtney’s hand away, then drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around her legs. “I’m sorry, Courtney. I shouldn’t have let that happen. You take the bed and I’ll go sleep on the couch.”
“I’ll behave.” Courtney looked like she was about to cry.
“I know you will.” Jessica smiled. “It’s my own emotions I need to get straight, no pun intended. It’s okay. I’m used to taking the couch half the time. It’s pretty comfortable.”
“I didn’t mean to drive you from your own bed.” Courtney looked down and smoothed the sheet beneath her hand.
“Believe me, if you were a little older and I wasn’t your teacher, there’s no way you would ever drive me from my bed if you were in it.” Jessica winked at her. “And that’s way more than I should probably say.”
She eased off the mattress and stood up. “Don’t fret. You did nothing wrong. I’m the one who should have put the brakes on.”
“You’re not mad at me?” Courtney nibbled her lower lip, looking impossibly adorable.
“Never.” Jessica leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “Get some sleep. We can talk about this more in the morning over blueberry pancakes.”
“Ooo, okay.” Courtney finally smiled. “Goodnight, Jessica.”
“Goodnight, Courtney.” Jessica closed the bedroom door and went out into the living room with her pillow and blanket in tow. She settled onto the couch and watched a waxing crescent moon slowly move across the sky through the loft’s floor to ceiling windows. A glance at the cable box clock across the room indicated she had approximately six or so hours to get her head cleared.
It was dangerous ground she was treading on. It wasn’t just that she and Sarah had been estranged for several months and she was lonely. She genuinely liked Courtney. The girl was mature beyond her years, a great conversationalist, and very attractive. It didn’t help that she’d admitted to being open to same-sex relationships, or that she was a very good kisser. “Dammit.” Jessica rose and paced back and forth next to the window. Finally, she went into the kitchen, poured a glass of wine, and went out on the balcony, taking a seat on a patio chair.
It happened far too often. Young adults becoming involved with a minor who was sometimes only a few years younger than them. Statutory rape charges slapped on twenty-one year old men for becoming involved with sixteen-year-old girls. A hundred years earlier no one batted an eyelash at such relationships, but that was then and this was now. It didn’t matter that if it were even one year into the future, she and Courtney could be involved and it would be perfectly kosher. What mattered at present was that not only was she Courtney’s teacher, Courtney was jailbait.
Courtney was also a confused girl who had recently broken up with her boyfriend. She was a senior in high school, thinking about where she would go to college, what she would study, and who she would become, both professionally and sexually. Getting involved with her was wrong on many levels. Young hearts were fragile. Allowing too much of an emotional attachment, even if it never became physical again, might derail Courtney from making the best choices for herself.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, foolish heart,” Jessica whispered to herself. There could be no more sleepovers. She could be Courtney’s teacher, counselor, and adult friend, but any situation even remotely presenting opportunities for a romantic encounter could not, and would not, happen again.
She finished her wine and went back inside to the couch. After a long while, she finally fell asleep.
Jessica awoke to the scent of something delicious. She sat up on the couch and heard Courtney in the kitchen at the stove. “Good morning.” She stood and went to lean in the kitchen doorway. “What are you doing?”
“I tried to sleep in, but I couldn’t. So I came out here and saw you were asleep. Then I found the pancake mix in your pantry. I brewed some coffee and the pancakes are almost ready.” She flipped one over with a spatula, gently flattening it against the hot griddle on the stove.
“I see.” Jessica went over to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup, adding milk and stevia.
“About last night.” Courtney kept her back to her as she continued to cook. “I’m really sorry, Miss Ramsey. I am.”
Miss Ramsey. Jessica realized it was for the best. “It’s okay. No need to apologize. I’m the adult. It’s not your fault. But you do understand that, don’t you? I’m the adult. I can’t allow it to happen again.”
“I know.” Courtney transferred the last two pancakes to a stack keeping warm on a plate under a dishtowel. “But you have to understand, too. I can’t help how I feel.”
“I get that.” Jessica helped her move their breakfast to a table in a nook off the kitchen. They sat down. “I’d be lying if I said I don’t have some feelings as well. But I have to do what’s best for you, Courtney. And I also have to think about my position as your teacher. It wouldn’t be right. You have so much great stuff ahead of you. Finish high school and go off to college. Find out for yourself who you are, because from what I know of you, who you are is a pretty amazing person.”
“Thank you.” Courtney blushed. “I just wish I was older.”
“Don’t wish away these next few years, sweetheart.” Jessica smiled sympathetically. “You are going to make some great memories, and learn so much about yourself. Adult responsibilities will come soon enough. Enjoy every minute of your freedom.”
“We can still be friends, can’t we?”
“Of course,” Jessica reassured her. “If you need to talk about anything, you can come to me, okay?”
“Okay.” Courtney smiled. “I can live with that.”
“Glad to hear it.”
They both laughed, and moved on to less-serious discussion. After breakfast, they took very separate showers, and then Jessica drove Courtney home. They hugged once then, and they hugged again four months later when Courtney graduated and showed Jessica her admission letter to Rice University. The semester had flown by, and she’d watched Courtney continue to blossom into a bright young woman. They’d maintained the appropriate distance they’d promised to, and slowly, their hearts had come to accept what their heads knew to be right.
Suddenly, it was late summer, and Courtney got into her graduation gift from her parents, a new Toyota Prius, and drove out of the city toward Houston, and out of Jessica’s life.
The late spring sun beat down on the ball field. From the dugout, Jessica watched as the batter hit a line drive directly into the glove of her third baseman for the last out of the game. The stands erupted in wild cheers, and Jessica yelled with joy, then shrieked, as a large container of Gatorade and ice was dumped over her head. Her high school varsity girls had just won the state high school softball championship for the second year in a row. She ran out onto the field with the other girls in the dugout, to join their team members on the pitcher’s mound. They swept Jessica up onto their shoulders, and carried her all the way to the locker room.
The celebration went on for thirty minutes, as they cheered, danced, and ate pizza. Finally the girls went off to the showers, and Jessica made her way to a more private coach’s shower, to wash off the sticky, dried Gatorade. She dressed and blew her hair dry, then met her girls for a final end of year pep talk. The girls filed out of the locker room, and Jessica turned to leave as well.
A familiar figure was leaning in the doorway.
“Yes, ma’am.” Courtney smiled, and Jessica went over to give her a hug. “Great game,” Courtney complimented her.
“Thanks.” Jessica smiled. “It’s been a good four years. We went to semi-finals those first two years after you graduated, and then the championship these last two. I’m hoping that means the school will keep me another year or two.”
“They’d be crazy not to.” Courtney glanced at the large trophy sitting on the nearby table. “I didn’t experience you as a coach, but you were a great history teacher.”
“I appreciate that.” Jessica smiled. “So what brings you here? You finished at Rice?”
“I am. Graduated last week, and moving back here. I’ve been hired by U.T. Southwestern to work in their Nanotechnology lab. I’ll be doing research on use of Nano-engineering solutions for autoimmune diseases, while I work on my master’s degree in biomedical engineering.”
“I only vaguely understand what that means, but I couldn’t be more proud of you.” Jessica hugged her again. “Thanks for coming out to support the team.”
“I – um –” Courtney’s cheeks had a hint of pink tinge. “I was wondering. You know, I’m twenty-two now. So you’d be twenty-seven?”
“Yes.” Jessica studied Courtney more closely, noting that her necklace contained a discreet row of rainbow beads. “Nano-engineering, huh? That must have kept you pretty busy for four years.”
“It did.” Jessica laughed lightly. “But I had time to figure out a few things. And to realize that there might be some things here in Dallas I’d like to research outside the laboratory.”
“Yeah?” Jessica felt her own face flush.
“Yeah. I was hoping you might want to discuss it with me over dinner tonight, that is if you’re free.” Courtney’s eyebrows rose meaningfully.
“Completely, totally free,” Jessica replied.
They looked at each other in hopeful silence for a few moments, then Courtney held out her hand. “Come on, I’ll drive.”
“Oh, boy.” Jessica stopped long enough to lock the locker room door behind them. “I think we’re in for quite a ride.”
“I sure hope so.” Courtney grinned, as they got into her car and drove off toward the setting sun.