The Freshman
Copyright 2005 by EC
EC's Erotic Art & Fiction -
(warnings: corporal punishment, erotic discipline, public nudity, sex between adults, references to drug use, references to violence, language)

Chapter 16 - A Change of Plans

Following the Halloween party Burnside treated Cecilia in a completely normal manner, as though the entire test incident had never happened. It was as though she had purged the entire affair from her mind, as though she had forgotten it entirely. Cecilia knew that Burnside never forgot anything, but she realized that the professor was capable of disconnecting an offense such as the test incident from a relationship once the offender had submitted to punishment.

Burnside's thoughts were not on the recent past, but on the near future. The Danubian Prime Minister's impending visit occupied her mind, given that it was to take place shortly after Thanksgiving break. Just two days after Halloween, the professor went over Cecilia's research and took notes. There was a general discussion between the two women about current conditions in Upper Danubia and Vladim Dukov's plans for re-developing the eastern part of the country. Burnside then moved on to the visit itself.

"The Prime Minister's visit is a private trip. It's not a state visit at all, he's just here to set up an exchange program with the National University in Danube City and pick up some advice about economic development. That's why he's specifically coming here and not doing anything official in DC. And there's something about him that I find very interesting. From what I gather, he's not big on making a spectacle of himself. He's just coming here on a commercial flight with his daughter, a couple of secretaries, two bodyguards, and a couple of his ministers."

"That's it?"

"That's it. It'll be real simple. He'll meet up with the Governor, the president of the university, and the Danubian ambassador at the airport, then they'll head over to the University Memorial Center and we'll be there to receive them."

Burnside then made a confession that surprised her student.

"Cecilia, I've got a bit of a problem. There's some stuff going on that's going to pull me away from having any time for getting ready, including some fires that need to be put out with the university administration and the State Legislature. I have to go to Springfield two weeks from now to make sure we don't lose funding next year and I have to get ready to give testimony. I'm going to rely on you to inform me about what's happening in Upper Danubia. Your research will be crucial to me, because, quite frankly, I'm too busy with my responsibilities to the department to properly prepare for Prime Minister Dukov's visit. I need you to give me summaries about what's going on in Danube City, and I mean not just with the EU road dispute. I need a complete picture of Dukov's government; who the players are and their backgrounds, what they're doing in Parliament, how Washington and Brussels are dealing with them, and any other issues you think they might be worried about right now."

"Uh... OK, but why do you need all that information, Dr. Burnside?"

"So I don't look like an idiot... so I don't look like I've been spending all my time at the State Legislature begging a bunch of ignorant hicks and corporate cronies for more university money... and so I can be properly prepared with minimal effort..."

"But... when am I gonna have time to do my paper for your other class?"

"As of today you don't have any papers. Your primary responsibility is getting me information for Prime Minister Dukov's visit. Your papers are canceled, because I need you for something way more important. If you've already checked out library books, take them back. You won't be doing the class projects."


"No 'buts'. You've got your Danubian contacts... your singer friend and whatnot?"

"Yeah, I 'spose..."

"Well, there you go. Put your contacts to use." Burnside paused to hand Cecilia several sheets of paper with a long list of questions. "This is the stuff I need to know. Research topics, so to speak. I need you to tell me as much as you can about what's in these questions. It was stuff I was going to research myself, but now I can't because of the State Legislature crap."

Burnside paused, and then continued with a comment that shocked Cecilia with its raw honesty.

"Now, do you think I'm using you? You bet I am. I need you to surrender your time and your resources to help me, and I'm not shy about admitting it. Right now I could care less about your other assignments. You can spend some other semester digging quotes out of library books. This'll be more important."

Cecilia was dumbfounded. She still could feel the welts from the punishment only two days before. As though none of that had happened, here was Burnside, entrusting her with a very important responsibility of international significance. Just like that, and with no thought that Cecilia possibly would not or could not take on the assignment, with no thought about the fact that officially she still was on academic probation.

Cecilia rushed back to her dorm room and wrote a frantic e-mail to Kimberly Lee, explaining about Dukov's visit and her own role in helping Burnside prepare to receive him. Under ordinary circumstances she never could have expected a celebrity to help her. However, the issue for Kimberly Lee was a personal one, because Dukov had been Kim's defense attorney, or Spokesman, as they said in Upper Danubia. There was hope she would be willing to help out.

Sure enough, several hours later Kim responded, asking Cecilia for the list of questions.

"Send me what you need, and I'll get my friends working on it. My husband knows a lot about our political situation, and he can help you out quite a bit."

Kim then went on to suggest that Cecilia get together with her sister Cynthia to discuss her Master's thesis and the recent Danubian election. The tone of the e-mail was very clear. Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna saw Cecilia not as a music fan, but as a fellow university student and a person assigned to help her mentor during his visit to the US. It became apparent to Cecilia that Kim was somewhat relieved to have someone she knew in the U.S. available to facilitate Vladim Dukov's visit, someone she could trust.

Over the next several evenings, life moved very quickly for Cecilia. In rapid succession e-mails from Kim and Cynthia with answers to her questions filled her in-box. She began organizing the responses into summaries and supplementing it with her own research from websites and her own suspended term-paper project. There were e-mails to Jim Halsey routed through Cecilia asking about the university's plans and what assistance Halsey's fellow economists could offer the Danubian Prime Minister. Cecilia even found herself helping arrange the actual details of the trip. As for a photographer, well, Cecilia knew a very good one who would work for a minimal fee. She called her friend Suzanne Foster, who was flattered at the thought of being the lead photographer of an official foreign delegation.

When she was not writing, receiving, or organizing e-mails, Cecilia worked on preparing a presentation for Ruth Burnside and her co-workers about Vladim Dukov's government. With that she had help from Cynthia Lee, first by e-mail, and later in person. The two women finally got together the second weekend after Halloween, along with Jason's friend Mike. Cecilia, realizing he was the most level-headed person in Jason's group of friends, decided to ask him to help her. As soon as Mike began looking over Cecilia's research, she became impressed with his ability to organize information into talking points and provide real assistance with preparing a PowerPoint presentation.

There were a few other details to be worked out. The Danubian embassy in Washington sent two Danubian flags to Dr. Halsey along with a music score for the Danubian national anthem. The university band had to learn and practice the music, but unfortunately there was no one available to sing it. Finding someone who could sing the anthem took up far more time than anyone had anticipated, but finally a student from the music department located a woman living in California who could travel to Chicago and perform for the delegation's visit.

Cecilia and Mike became impressed with Cynthia Lee as they got to know her better. She was very informed about events throughout the world, especially about what was going on in Upper Danubia and other Central European countries. Cecilia realized another very important detail, that her new friend's visit to Upper Danubia the previous year was an example of how a single person can change history. Cynthia Lee never would have admitted it, but she was the person who set in motion a chain of events that handed Vladim Dukov's party the Danubian election.

Cynthia originally had traveled to Danube City to conduct research about the political campaign consultants hired by the opposition GDPP (the Greater Danubian Progressive Party) and their use of modern U.S. election strategies. The topic interested her because she had wanted to do her Master's Thesis on the operations of U.S. political consulting companies in developing countries. Once in Danube City, Cynthia took a personal interest in the campaign and began advising Dukov and his assistants about the role and importance of political consulting in the U.S. and what foreign consulting could mean for the Danubian election. She provided Dukov's advisors with the knowledge they needed to counter much of the negative campaign advertising being aired on television by the GDPP. She then teamed up with a group of young Danubian nationalists supporting Dukov and trained them how to monitor and respond to negative campaign ads.

Cynthia Lee's efforts turned out to be successful beyond her wildest dreams. Starting with a very wide lead in opinion polls, the GDPP watched their public support slowly erode as Danubian voters began to form a favorable opinion of the former defense attorney. As the campaign continued, it appeared likely that Dukov still would lose the election, but not by a very wide margin. That wasn't good enough for the GDPP, whose advisors wanted a clear victory. To avert the risk of having to form a coalition government, the "Progressives" launched a final personal attack. The attack was not directed against Vladim Dukov, but against his son Vladik, who had just resigned from the Danubian National Police over a sex scandal. It turned out the personal attack against Dukov's son was a huge mistake that miscalculated Danubian cultural values. The GDPP's campaign completely fell apart when the Danubian Church got involved and condemned the consultants' campaign tactics. Dukov's party won 58 percent of the popular vote as a result.

Dukov's victory was a huge shock to the U.S. Administration, other European governments, and some major corporations that had bankrolled his opponents. It also was a huge humiliation to the political consultants who had traveled to the country with the blessing of the foreign interests. They had charged their clients millions of dollars, but were countered by a single political science graduate student who essentially was advising Dukov's supporters for free. What was worse for Dukov's opposition was the fact they had counted on paying for the consulting upon being able to access the Danubian National Treasury. With Dukov's party controlling 60 percent of the seats in Parliament, it was obvious the GDPP would have no access to the National Treasury and no way to pay off their debts.

When finally Cynthia left Upper Danubia to return to her studies, Vladim Dukov was solidly in power, with an opposition that was discredited, ruined financially, and viciously divided. The story itself was becoming a case study in failed political consulting that would be analyzed for years by political scientists. And to think, the only direct benefits Cynthia Lee ever got out of the entire affair were some connections and a research topic for her dissertation, a lifetime Danubian visa stamp in her passport, and the heartfelt gratitude of her sister's friends.

Vladim Dukov entered power with a very clear agenda. He needed to prepare his country to modernize, but at the same time preserve its cultural identity. He also wanted to ensure a fair and equitable society for the Duchy's citizens, one that was safe from crime, drug abuse, and AIDS. The people needed to be educated and drawn out of their traditional isolation, but in a way that did not threaten Danubian cultural values. In an era of globalization and aggressive corporate interests Dukov's goals seemed unrealistic, but he was determined to at least make the effort to modernize the Duchy on Danubian terms.

Dukov was an ardent nationalist. Free trade, free markets, and globalization were not priorities for his government. If Upper Danubia could benefit from a trade deal, great. If the Duchy had to withdraw from trade agreements or international organizations to preserve some aspect of its society, identity, or independence, so be it. Dukov made it very clear from the first day of his government that he had no commitments to foreign interests or to the global economy. When he stated, "My commitment is to Danubia," he actually meant it.

The new government started out by canceling any economic agreement that Dukov and his advisors felt was not in their country's interests. The Prime Minister gave a series of angry speeches in Parliament over the winter and worked to mobilize nationalistic pride among the public. However, Dukov's sense of nationalism was not blind. He knew that ultimately Upper Danubia would have to accommodate itself with the rest of the world, but he was determined to use his followers' nationalism to drive as hard a bargain as possible. The rest of the world would learn that Vladim Dukov's years as a defense attorney had made him a very stubborn and determined negotiator, but ultimately one who was willing to pursue and respect an honest agreement.

There was one major crisis hanging over Vladim Dukov as he began his time in power, and that was repairing the damage from a huge fire that had swept across the eastern provinces of his country nearly two years before. The area was only partially rebuilt and thousands of Danubians continued to live in refugee camps. Until the situation of the refugees was resolved, there was no way Dukov could move forward with any other priorities. The eastern region of his country needed a coherent development plan, which was why he was traveling to Chicago to seek advice from leading economists such as Ruth Burnside and Jim Halsey.

Cecilia learned a detail about the Prime Minister's trip that offered a window into his personality and values. He and his entourage were arriving to Chicago in first class seats, but on a regular flight. The Danubian Parliament had provided the money for the trip, with the exception of the tickets for the Prime Minister and his daughter. Those two tickets he was paying out of his own pocket.

Vladim Dukov was not the only person Cecilia had to prepare to meet in November. Another looming concern was meeting Jason's parents. Upon realizing that she had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving, Jason did something that was logical under the circumstances, he invited his girlfriend to spend Thanksgiving with his family. Cecilia really had no choice other than to accept. She had to meet his parents at some point and it seemed that she might as well get that taken care of as soon as possible.

Cecilia knew that receiving the approval of the elder Schmidts was both the most important and possibly the most difficult obstacle she had to overcome to achieve her ultimate plans with Jason. As had been the case with his friends, Cecilia's goal was not to do anything that would separate Jason from his parents, but instead obtain their support for continuing the relationship. If Cecilia could get Jason's parents to like and approve of her, then it was likely there would be no further obstacles to impede her ultimate goal of taking complete control over his life.

Cecilia carefully assessed the personal details that favored her and the ones that went against her. Her wardrobe no longer was an issue, given that she recently had spent nearly $ 1,000 on new clothing. She also realized that if she paid attention to how she spoke, she could keep her grammar under control. There wasn't much she could do about her accent, unfortunately. As for her personal life, well, as far as she was concerned she had two lives, the one before Chicago and the one she had lived over the past year. What was relevant was who she was now, not who she had been in New Jersey. There were plenty of details about her current life working in her favor, including her assignment as an RA and her role in helping to arrange Vladim Dukov's visit.

Another factor Cecilia thought she had working in her favor was her talent getting people to talk about themselves instead of allowing them to find out anything about her. She would discover that her ability to turn a conversation's topic away from herself might work just fine with people her own age, but was not so effective with an older person experienced in matching wits against clients and business partners.

Jason was very content by the middle of November, well aware of the benefits Cecilia had brought into his life. He had done extremely well on all of his midterms, getting an "A" in everything other than his exam with Ruth Burnside. He got an 89 percent on the Burnside mid-term, not bad considering it was the third highest grade in the class. He turned in his term papers with confidence, knowing that they were properly done and well researched. The term paper projects also had passed the inspection of Cecilia, whose judgment was every bit as harsh as any professor's could have been. Jason's papers were delivered ahead of time, giving him the opportunity to help Lisa and Ken with their papers. A couple of other classmates on the dorm floor asked him for assistance, which he provided. He became popular as he cheerfully provided help, and in doing so managed to get his fellow residents to think of him as something more than "the naked runner".

As she watched him, Cecilia was very pleased with Jason's progress. He had come to the university expecting to relax and party, but instead he was pushing himself academically and already very close to passing one of the most difficult freshman-level classes on campus. Perhaps Jason's intelligence was only average, but she had forced her boyfriend to develop that part of himself more than anyone could have expected. That was one thing definitely operating in her favor as far as his parents were concerned; they never could argue that she was a bad influence on his studies.

Cecilia continued to tighten her grip on her boyfriend's sexuality during the weeks following Halloween. She became more demanding of his performance and more insistent he learn how to better please her physical needs. As soon as her welts healed the couple went back to a full massage schedule, with him constantly experimenting with new techniques to relax her body. The nightly sessions of oral sex resumed, as did the somewhat less frequent sessions during which she allowed him to put on a condom and enter her.

Following the midterms Cecilia rewarded Jason for his academic performance by allowing him to make love to her the way he wanted. On three separate occasions she fell into his arms and signaled with her expression that she was surrendering her body to his wishes. Jason's first reward was granted when he received the 89 percent on the Burnside midterm. When he got "A's" on two other midterms, she rewarded him yet again. Rewarding him when he performed to her expectations was every bit as important as punishing him when he failed to meet them. She had no desire to control her boyfriend only through fear and punishment. She loved him, and wanted to make sure he clearly understood that by pleasing her there was a real reward waiting for him, the pleasure of taking control of her body for a short time. The truth was that Cecilia enjoyed pleasing Jason and, as long as he behaved properly, was eager to show that she cared for him. The relationship was about much more than just discipline.

Cecilia enjoyed the times she surrendered herself to Jason, much more than she cared to admit. Sometimes... to just enjoy the feel of her lover's hands on her body, to relax and not have to be telling him what to do, to just feel the sensations of the moment... sometimes that was what she truly needed. There were times she was frightened by how much she enjoyed letting him take charge of a love-making session, not a good thing for a woman who wanted to be the dominant partner in a relationship.

The second Saturday afternoon following the Halloween party, Cecilia took a good look at herself in her bedroom mirror. She was naked, a habit that was becoming more normal for her. She was following the mental journey her boyfriend had followed years before when he was just starting high school. Several weeks earlier she had begun sleeping without any clothing. By the beginning of November she had learned what a pleasure it could be to simply hang out naked in her room with the warm air caressing her bare skin. She began studying in the nude and only got dressed if she had to leave the room. Starting during the days after Halloween Cecilia also began experimenting with not wearing underwear when she went out. At first she felt incredibly daring as she walked across campus in a long skirt with nothing underneath, feeling the cold autumn air blowing freely against her naked crotch. However, over time being without underwear simply began to feel more comfortable. During the final part of the semester the young woman's thongs and bras normally sat unused in her drawer as she savored a new freedom in life.

The young Dominican reflected that both her African and her Caribbean ancestors understood the comfort of wearing as little as possible in their tropical environments. It was her Spanish ancestors, with their religious ideas and their Inquisition, who felt obligated to indoctrinate everyone else with the idea that the human body was evil. That original Spanish belief still held throughout all of Latin America, so deeply embedded in the culture that even non-religious people felt very uncomfortable with their bodies. As she stood looking at herself, stretching her arms and enjoying the sight of her attractive figure, Cecilia Sanchez realized that she had managed to shed yet another part of the emotional baggage she had carried with her since her childhood. She also realized that it was her boyfriend's comfort with being naked that had made her appreciate the beauty of her own body. In that aspect of her life, it was Jason's values that had changed her own.

The RA reluctantly put on a dress and walked down the hall to patrol her floor. She sat with a resident who was suicidal over having failed several midterms and comforted her until the immediate crisis passed. Finally she prepared to put the girl in contact with the university mental health clinic and worked to convince her to seek counseling. The crisis took up an unexpected amount of time and forced her to call Jason and cancel the plans they had for going out that night. When she finally was free, she called her disappointed boyfriend and escorted him back to her room. She actually was happy the plans for going out had to be canceled, given that it was a very cold, wet, dreary night outside. It was so much better to enjoy the warm, dry indoors than to brave the Chicago elements.

Once they were safely in her room, Jason quietly looked at Cecilia to see what she wanted him to do. She nodded towards the closet, indicating she wanted him to undress and hang up his clothes. He kicked off his shoes and stripped off the only two items he was wearing, a pair of loose-fitting shorts and a casual shirt. He obediently hung the items on hangers and neatly set his shoes in the closet. He would retrieve the items when she gave him permission, until then he was to remain naked.

She hugged him and gave him a passionate kiss. She then ran her fingers over his chest and gently brushed his penis with her fingertips. He reacted immediately, but knew that it would be a long time before he could expect any relief from his burning desires. She had taught him to wait. She gave him a seductive look with her dark eyes, and then pressed down on his shoulders. He understood what she wanted; pressing on his shoulders was her signal to him that she wanted him to kneel. Once properly on his knees, Jason put his arms around her while she gently stroked his cheek and ran her fingers through his hair.

Jason felt immensely happy at that moment. He was where he wanted to be, under the protection of the one woman on campus who seemed to understand him and his needs. She was guiding him, disciplining him, giving him immense pleasure, and teaching him. Most importantly she loved him. In her own way she loved him much more than he had ever been loved by anyone else.

"Take off my clothes and hang them up please."

He got up and gently undressed her, enormously pleased to see she was not wearing any underwear. He put her dress on a hanger and placed her shoes next to his in the closet. He then approached her, partly expecting to be instructed to get back on his knees. Instead she passionately kissed him as the warmth from her attractive dark figure pressed up against Jason's body. The separated and she sat down on her bed. She reached out her hand, smiling mischievously. Jason realized what she had in mind; he needed to go over her lap.

With no hesitation he settled over her thighs, trying to position himself so that his bottom was relaxed and slightly bent. He had surrendered himself to her, but was unsure what she planned to do. There were nights she was content to simply caress his buttocks with her fingertips and the palms of her hands. There were other nights when she lovingly spanked him, although she rarely spanked him more than once every 10 days or so. Jason figured that tonight he was due for an erotic spanking, since he had not had one for several weeks.

Cecilia took her time. She sensuously caressed Jason's pale skin, and even bent down to gently kiss both bottom-cheeks. She ran her fingers up the middle and gently touched the backs of his testicles, but then returned to caressing the tempting mounds of his lovely backside. She gently spoke to her lover, emphasizing that he belonged to her and that his bottom was hers to do with as she pleased. She reminded him that he needed both her love and her discipline, which he realized was very true.

Slowly the anticipation began to build, those exciting minutes before the first slap landed. The waiting was a part of the discipline that both Cecilia and Jason treasured, a part of the spanking ceremony both sought to drag out as long as possible. Finally Jason sighed and tilted his bottom up, silently begging her to start spanking. That detail was not lost on the young woman.

"You naughty boy. If I wasn't mistaken' I'd say you was askin' me to spank you." She stopped and left her hand resting on his bottom. "So, is that it? You think you're naughty enough to have a good spanking from me?"

"Yes... Cecilia. I'm naughty and I need you to spank me."

"Now, don't be so rude to me, amorcito. You need to ask me right."

"Cecilia... please... spank me on the bare bottom."

"A good, hard, bare bottom spanking? That's what you're askin' from me?"

"Yes, Cecilia... please give me a good bare bottom spanking."

With that she leaned down and gently kissed his bottom yet again, and then stopped, leaving her hand in place to let him know where the first slap was going to land.

"You're such a naughty boy, and I'm gonna fix that naughty bottom of yours."

Jason's desire to be spanked was overwhelming long before he felt the first sharp smack from his girlfriend's hand. When the first SLAP finally did mark his unprotected bottom, it was more of a relief, the final breaking of the tension that had been building up as he lay over her lap. The pain was just right, sharp enough to break the tension and arouse his senses. It hurt, but at the same time felt really, really good. He gasped: "Spank me... spank me."

Cecilia was a bit surprised, but very pleased. She had trained him well, trained him to the point that he wanted her to discipline him. To submit, to expose his soul and his body to her, and to feel just the right amount of pain in his tender backside, was what he needed to experience real pleasure. She had known that about Jason from the very beginning, but now he knew it as well.

She spanked him very slowly, with sharp slaps spaced well apart. She struck hard, studied the handprint from the swat, gently laid her palm on the other side of his bottom to let him know where the next slap would land, and laid on another crisp SMACK! The minutes went by and sweat trickled down Jason's body as both the pain in his bottom and the arousal in his soul mounted. All of his senses were at their peak. Never had he felt as alive as he felt at that moment, torn between wanting to experience ever-more severe pain and wanting relieve the intense sexual desire burning in his crotch. His penis was very, very hard, with a throbbing erection that pressed into his lover's thigh. He was so turned-on that he almost had trouble breathing, as he lay gasping over her lap.

It was Cecilia who finally made the decision what to do about Jason's state of arousal. That erection was for her, for her to enjoy, for her to feel inside her body. She suddenly stopped spanking and pushed him up. A condom was sitting handy on her nightstand and within a couple of seconds it was out of its package and safely covering his penis.

Cecilia then did something that surprised not only Jason, but also surprised herself. The young woman's own lust pushed her to get on her elbows and knees on the bed instead of making him lie on his back so she could straddle him. She submissively spread her backside and presented herself to her lover, in what she knew was his favorite position. He entered her, grabbed her thighs, pressed into her desperate vagina, and thrust very hard. Yes... that was what she wanted... very hard thrusts. Sweat trickled down her body as she gritted her teeth and pushed back into him, wanting him to get as deeply inside her as possible. They climaxed right at the same moment, two lovers whose needs matched each other and whose bodies clearly understood the balance between pain and pleasure.

A short time later they were lying quietly in her bed, Jason asleep in her arms as she gently ran her fingers through his hair. Cecilia reflected that even when he was awake Jason looked very young, but asleep he seemed even younger and almost child-like. She was only a year older than he was, but in many ways, on the inside, she felt much older than that. Certainly she was much older than he was when it came to having endured negative experiences in life.

As she lay quietly stroking Jason's hair and feeling the pleasant ache between her legs from her recent sexual exertions, Cecilia's thoughts drifted from her boyfriend to herself. Yes, it was obvious that she had him completely under her control, but she now was beginning to wonder whether she really had herself under control. There were times she seemed not to be able to withstand her own instincts, when her body demanded she set aside her plans and surrender to her sexual cravings. That worried the Dominican, because whenever she lost control over her body and her physical actions she felt very disconcerted, the same way an overly confident teenager might feel when he has his first close encounter with mortality.

Cecilia Sanchez thought she had everything figured out. It had seemed that she knew exactly what she needed. It had seemed that she understood everyone around her. Hah! What a bunch of nonsense! She now realized she didn't even understand herself, let alone understand anyone else.

Chapter 17 - Mr. Schmidt

Cecilia was so busy during the month of November that she did not realize how quickly the days were speeding by. Thanksgiving week came, along with the chaos of hundreds of freshmen trying to get out of Huntington Hall to see their families. Mike and Lisa left early in the week to travel to California, flying out for a frantic couple of days to spend time with his parents and later with her father in Reno. Ken was gone as well, off to visit his family, minus the tattoo he had been planning to have on his body by now. Perhaps that was just as well... one less thing to fight over with his father.

Cecilia felt very nervous as her trip to meet Jason's parents and his sister Cassie loomed. From what she had managed to learn from Jason about his family, it seemed they were typical upper class people with typical upper class problems. They had a very nice house in an affluent area just across the state line in Wisconsin. However, it seemed that his parents had a lot of problems in their marriage and there was tension between both parents and Jason's sister.

The trip to Wisconsin began on a cold, dreary Wednesday afternoon when Jason's father came to the university to pick them up. A large, imposing, well-groomed man shook Jason's hand and then greeted Cecilia. He was dressed in jeans and a University of Wisconsin sweatshirt. Mr. Schmidt's casual appearance surprised her somewhat. Cecilia felt very uneasy, as Jason's father looked her over with a somewhat disapproving expression. She was dressed in a nice business outfit, but that was part of the problem. The rich tended dress casually and to Mr. Schmidt, Cecilia's outfit looked out of place. Her dark skin bothered him as well, although he realized he could not make an issue out of that. This wasn't 1950, after all.

Cecilia was perceptive enough to know that she had not made a good first impression on Jason's father. She wondered what to do next, and realized something important. She had been planning to watch her grammar and pay close attention to keeping her accent under control. Suddenly she had second thoughts about doing that. To hell with it, she thought, I'm going to be who I am, and they're just gonna have to deal with it. I'm not gonna try to be someone I'm not. Cecilia's decision turned out to be a very fortunate one, because had she gone with her original plan to try to artificially change her speech, Jason's father would have seen right through it and turned her efforts against her.

The car Mr. Schmidt stepped out of was a new BMW. Jason had previously explained that his father was partial to BMW's and bought a new one about once every two years. As she pondered the expensive, well-kept vehicle, Cecilia thought bitterly about her own mother's car, a huge, very beat-up 1972 Chevy that only somewhat worked. Her brother briefly had a flashy convertible, but it was seized by the police when he was arrested, and later sold at auction.

Cecilia began to wonder; if Mr. Schmidt replaced his own car once every couple of years, why Jason did not have a car. That seemed rather strange. He had everything else, but why not a car? She would have to ask him about that the next time she was alone with him.

They set out, taking a major road to the west to bypass the main part of Chicago and then proceeding north through the city's western suburbs. The trip itself was rather tense. Jason's father pummeled him with questions about his studies, only to be pleasantly surprised to learn that he was doing well in college. The conversation topic moved to his social life. Jason talked about his three friends and his relationship with Cecilia. As he talked, she wondered if he might mention her dominance over him. Fortunately Jason did not bring up that aspect of his relationship, nor did he mention anything about his strange notoriety from the Tri-Alpha 10-K run.

Mr. Schmidt's sudden interest in Jason's studies was another mystery to Cecilia. Jason had made no mention of any contact between his parents and himself since the beginning of the semester. It seemed that Cecilia was the only person who really took an interest in Jason's studies and over-all well being over the three months that she had known him. Now it seemed that Mr. Schmidt was trying to make up for lost time. Cecilia badly wanted to blurt out "Mr. Schmidt, I was the one who got Jason to study and kept an eye on him over the last three months. I was the one who kept him out of trouble. How come he hasn't heard from you, and how come you're now askin' him all these questions?" However, she held her tongue, not wanting conflict to ruin this trip any sooner than necessary.

They crossed the state line. It was the first time Cecilia had seen Wisconsin; in fact, it was the first time she had traveled outside Illinois since arriving nearly a year and a half before. As they drove along back roads over the pleasant countryside, Mr. Schmidt began talking to Cecilia, probing her to find out as much as he could about her. She recognized what he was doing; he was probing her in the same way she was used to probing people when she was getting to know them. She responded in her usual evasive manner, turning the questions back to Mr. Schmidt to try to get information out of him instead. He seemed irritated, but answered her questions: talking about his time in college, relating how he met Jason's mother, and explaining why the family had settled in Wisconsin instead of Illinois.

Seeing Jason's neighborhood was a bit of a shock, even though he already had shown her pictures of his house and his high school. Cecilia had thought that Dr. Burnside's house and neighborhood was nice, but the development where Burnside lived was nothing in comparison with the area Jason's house was located. Enormous flashy residences with vaulted entrances and fancy yards passed by Cecilia's eyes. There was an expensive SUV, BMW, or sports car parked in each driveway. There were attractive carved signs pointing to golf courses and country clubs, and other signs announcing that a particular lake or park was restricted to residents only.

Cecilia was impressed, but not in a positive way. She looked around at what seemed to her a sterile, alien environment. She had entered another world, a landscape that was appealing to the eye, but at the same time a world that was very cold and hostile. What struck her the most about the neighborhood was the absence of people. The yards and sidewalks were almost completely empty. She saw an occasional middle-aged jogger and one older man riding a lawn mower picking up leaves. That was it; no children, no younger people in sight at all. There is something very wrong about all this, she thought to herself. This place is just as bad as my housing project. Maybe it's bad in a different way, but it's just as bad.

Finally they arrived at Jason's house. The family had an additional BMW (which was being used to teach Cassie how to drive), and a new full-sized SUV. The garage had a full workshop, although Cecilia could tell by the condition of the tools that it rarely was used. There were two living rooms downstairs, one of which Cecilia later learned was called a "sitting room" and was not used on a day to day basis. 'That's just as well,' she thought to herself, 'that furniture doesn't look very comfortable to sit in.'

Not only were there two living rooms, there also were two dining rooms. There was a large table near the kitchen where the family ate on a day-to-day basis, but then there was a more formal dining room with antique cabinets and a very expensive-looking dining set. And to think, this huge house, with its two living rooms, two dining rooms, basement, den, five bathrooms, and six bedrooms, was the residence of four people, now reduced to three with Jason no longer living at home. Cecilia peeked out through the bay window of the "informal" dining room, to see an air tent covering the family's pool. She suddenly realized she had forgotten to bring a swimsuit, which was too bad, because a few minutes wading in the water might have relieved her stress a bit.

She became more and more nervous. She clearly was out of her element, being in this over-sized house with its vaulted ceilings and impractical decorations. It seemed to her that a large portion of the house was not for living at all, but rather for show. This is totally ridiculous, she thought to herself. A house should be a comfortable place to live in... something practical, maybe like what Ruth Burnside has... not... this monstrosity. There was something enormously oppressive about the place and all its wasted space and resources. She had the feeling that even if she had grown up with too little space, perhaps Jason had grown up with too much.

There was more unpleasantness coming her way. Mrs. Schmidt came home with Cassie and another teenager. All of them were dressed in expensive sweatsuits, all of them carrying tennis racquets. The woman and the two girls gave Cecilia a hostile dismissive glance. She still had not realized what the problem was -- that she had over-dressed to meet Jason's family. The detail of her clothing gave her away as a poor person trying to be better than what she was.

Things only got worse. While the three tennis princesses went upstairs, two Salvadoran maids arrived to begin cleaning the kitchen and the bathrooms. The two women stared at Cecilia with blatant curiosity as they began working. They spoke quietly to each other, careful not to let the guest overhear their conversation. They assumed, quite rightly, that she understood Spanish. Despair swept over her as the thought crossed her mind, 'the only thing separating me from them two Salvadorans is my scholarship. If it wasn't for the scholarship, I'd be just like them, kneelin' in the bathroom cleanin' someone else's shit.'

But then another thought crossed her mind, which gave her the confidence she needed to get through the uncomfortable weekend, 'the only thing separating me from them bitches upstairs is their money. They're not any better than me. They're not even smart enough to clean up after themselves.' She then heard Ruth Burnside's voice, so clearly that she almost thought the professor was in the room with her:

"You've got to be better than them. Way better. Now you use that head of yours..."

With a new resolve to hold her own in this hostile place, Cecilia's thoughts turned back to Jason. She had come here partly because she wanted to see the world where he had grown up, so she could better understand him and why he was the way he was. When she met him, Jason seemed to have been adrift psychologically. Now Cecilia thought she understood why. Perhaps all this empty space, the oversized house and the depopulated neighborhood, had created an emptiness in Jason's soul. Perhaps it was the cold materialistic personalities of his family. Maybe it was the lack of any personal challenges while in high school, a life where he had nothing to worry about apart from doing well in his next track meet. She became even more convinced that Jason needed her and the life she was preparing for him. He needed a partner who loved him, but he also needed someone who could watch over him and be firm with him. He needed direction and discipline to focus his energies. He also needed a plan for his life, something that would provide a purpose for his existence.

Just 10 minutes had gone by since Cecilia had stepped into Jason's house, but in that 10 minutes she clearly understood his situation. She also knew exactly what she needed to do. Her purpose over the weekend was not to get Jason's family to like her. That wasn't going to happen, no matter what. It already was obvious there never would be any warmth between Cecilia and Jason's parents. Instead what she needed to do was to stand her ground and get them to respect her. She needed to show them she was a person who was sure of herself and one who knew exactly what she wanted from life. If they said something with which she disagreed, she would speak her mind. She would take no crap from them.

Cecilia had one big advantage working in her favor. She suspected the Schmidts were concerned that she had seduced Jason because she wanted his money. The truth was quite the opposite. Cecilia was completely uninterested in her boyfriend's money. In fact, now that she had seen the family's material life up close, she viewed it as a huge hindrance, something she wanted no part of. This house, this neighborhood, those cars, and that tennis club were weights around the necks of the Schmidts. Better just to get rid of them and start over. Were Jason's parents to die tomorrow, Cecilia would have insisted that he give his portion of the inheritance to Cassie. Let little Miss Tennis Bitch deal with all this shit.

Mr. Schmidt decided to show Cecilia around the house, with Jason trailing behind. He was genuinely proud of the residence, but also hoped to intimidate his son's girlfriend by showing her what she truly was up against. They passed from room to room, each one professionally decorated. Everything was new, with the exception of some antiques, which had been purchased to supplement the décor. Cecilia only had one question.

"You didn't get anything from your parents?"

"Of course not. We got rid of most of my parents' stuff when my father died and we moved my mother to her condo. It didn't fit with the décor, so we threw it out."

The only reaction was a slightly disgusted look on the young woman's face. Didn't fit with the décor, so we threw it out... give me a break.

Jason's father, who noticed everything, caught Cecilia's expression. "So, what do you think?"

"Mr. Schmidt, if this place makes you happy, I 'spose it's OK. To be honest, it'd be a bit much for me."

"Well, I'm sure where you're from, you're not used to seeing anything like what we've got here."

"I've seen some places, enough to know what I want, and what I don't."

Cecilia's response surprised both Jason and his father. She had answered the older man's put-down with a put-down of her own. In doing so she let Mr. Schmidt know that his effort to use the house to intimidate her had not worked at all. She was very unimpressed, and not shy about letting Mr. Schmidt know that. It was the first exchange out of many that weekend, through which the elder Schmidts and Cecilia would probe each other, verbally sparring and looking for weaknesses.

The family ate a light dinner, with three guests. Cecilia was present, as was Cassie's tennis friend and a young, arrogant blond guy with whom Cassie had a casual relationship. Cecilia knew that undoubtedly he would be in a fraternity in a couple of years and be one of those drunken slackers that Ruth Burnside so vividly despised. Cecilia thought she could catch a whiff of marijuana smoke on his clothing.

As she listened to the idiotic chatter of Cassie and her two friends, Cecilia became even more determined to extract Jason from this pathetic environment once and for all. Mrs. Schmidt chimed in, and then made a disparaging racist remark about the maids, a comment partly made to unsettle her son's girlfriend. Cecilia decided not to respond to that particular slight, but she was wound-up, like a cornered animal, ready to viciously strike out when the moment came.

Jason became increasingly nervous. He could see the fight building up in his girlfriend's eyes as she continued to listen to his sister's inane chatter and his mother's quiet slights.

The conversation turned to Cecilia's background. By then, some of her tension was seeping out. She freely discussed her time at the university, her duties as RA, and her constant efforts to keep drunken fraternity and sorority pledges under control. She took a thrust at Cassie and her two friends when she vented about the girls who did not know how to use dorm washing machines.

"I can't believe how stupid some of those little princesses are. They can't even use the laundry room without puttin' a bunch of soap bubbles on the floor. It's like their parents never taught them nothin'. It's really sad to see someone that helpless..."

Everyone knew the Dominican's comment was directed at the spoiled young teenagers sitting at the table. They were among the girls who had never washed their own clothing and had never learned how to use a laundry room. Unless someone set them straight over the next year, they almost certainly would be among the freshmen destined to have a housekeeping crisis during their first week on campus.

Jason cringed in silent mortification as his girlfriend and his parents sparred with each other at the dinner table, regretting with every bit of his soul having invited Cecilia for Thanksgiving dinner. He desperately wished he could get someone to shut up, but he should have known that Cecilia was not one to back away from a fight. Her claws were out and she was fully ready to defend herself.

A temporary calm returned to the table. Jason's father decided to find out what type of student she was by asking her to explain her studies. Cecilia talked about her research under Ruth Burnside and the impending plans for her to become a research assistant the following year. She talked at length about her economics classes and what she was learning. Mr. Schmidt was vaguely impressed. Whatever else was wrong with her, it was clear that Jason's girlfriend was intelligent and knew how to study.

The line of conversation seemed innocent enough, as Cecilia discussed the economics department and the program she was majoring in. Then the topic of Upper Danubia and its new Prime Minister came up. Cecilia mentioned her research and the pending visit, scheduled to take place right after Thanksgiving Break ended. Mr. Schmidt sighed and rolled eyes upon hearing the name Vladim Dukov.

"Oh yeah, that commie bastard. Some of my clients took a real hit on that one."

"Took a hit, Mr. Schmidt?"

"Yeah, Cecilia. Took a hit. A lot of people lost a bunch of money on that fiasco last year. I mean, you've studied it, you know what happened. I'll tell you, we had a real set-back with that screwed up election."

"Who had a setback?"

"Well, the EU, and my clients, of course. Especially Mega-Town Associates. They had a lot riding on the election. They had all kinds of development projects and investments pending, and that son-of-a-bitch Dukov got in there and canceled everything. I mean everything. And all that money the Embassy spent... and it was for nothing."

"Mr. Schmidt, I don't think it was that simple. From what I read, I think what Prime Minister Dukov wanted to do was re-negotiate the contracts. He gave Mega-Town Associates and the EU a chance to make changes and they wouldn't do it. I don't think that was his fault..."

"What the hell are you talking about? Of course it was his fault! You don't just walk up to Mega-Town and say 'screw-you' to their faces! No two-bit third-world leader does that to America's best company! And anyhow, what he wanted to do, change the rules mid-game, you just don't do it. It wasn't fair to the investors, and wasn't fair to the company!"

"But was what Mega-Town wanted to do in Upper Danubia fair? Their subsidiary wanted to clear-cut the forests out of three provinces and then charge 'em for building a road. What was Upper Danubia gonna get out of it?"

Jason's father gave Cecilia a very hard look. "That's irrelevant, Cecilia. We're really not talking about Upper Danubia, because as far as I'm concerned, Upper Danubia doesn't matter. What matters are American interests. The point is American investors got screwed. People lost money. Don't you get it? People lost money, just because the wrong guy got into that country's Parliament. And what's worse, I don't see how we're going to get him out anytime soon."

"What do you mean 'get him out anytime soon'? 'Isn't that up to the Danubians? It's their country. Don't they get to choose who's gonna lead 'em? Isn't that what democracy's supposed to be all about?"

"Not when it interferes with clients! Not when it hurts American business interests!"

Jason's father looked hard at his guest, very offended that this pathetic 19-year-old was questioning ideas that were core to everything he believed, the ideals that had given him and his family so much. How dare she...

"I have a question for you. Do you have any pride in America at all? Don't you care about American interests? Don't you care about our society's commitment to free markets? Doesn't any of that matter to you? Just whose side are you on?"

That was the moment Cecilia snapped. Finally she had enough. She thought for a moment, not about what she was going to say, but how she was going to phrase it to make it as forceful as possible.

"Investors lost money. Aww... That's just so sad... investors lost money. Well, I think those investors got what they deserved! Whatever they lost, they deserved to lose it! They thought they were so smart, tryin' to rig that election so they could rip up that country, and guess what? They got their asses beat! Yeah, Mr. Schmidt, they lost their dirty money, and that's what they deserved! That's what I think! And as for Vladim Dukov, I like him! I like what he stands for and I wish there were more people like him. I admire him, and I hope he keeps on screwin' your clients and messin' up their plans! And if there's anything I could ever do, to help him screw your clients, I'd do it, 'cause I hate Mega-Town and want 'em put out of business! That's whose side I'm on!"

Cecilia's eyes were ablaze and her mouth was drawn tight. She looked like she was about to jump out of her seat. She was clearly ready for a good fight, prepared to argue all night if necessary to defend her position and a political figure she admired. Mr. Schmidt's face went white. For a few seconds he said nothing, then, not knowing how to respond, simply left the table. Jason's mother quickly followed, leaving Jason, Cecilia, and the three bewildered teenagers sitting alone.

Jason's mother and father were both shocked by the Dominican's sudden combativeness, but their thoughts on how to deal with the matter were totally different.

Jason's mother wanted to throw that arrogant little ghetto bitch out of the house immediately. That meant right at that moment, out the door at 9:00 at night. How she got out of the neighborhood and back to Chicago would be her problem, not theirs.

It wasn't just Cecilia's arrogance that drew out loathing in Mrs. Schmidt; there was something much more deep-rooted. Her own husband had a nasty habit of seducing the maids, which fomented a deep hatred from the woman towards any young attractive female with a Latin American background. Cecilia Sanchez, the seducer of her own son, seemed to be the worst of all, with her pretty face, trashy background, and arrogant behavior.

Subconsciously, Jason's mother had looked forward to Cecilia's visit, because it was to have been her chance to get back at all the women with whom her husband had carried out affairs. She planned to slowly humiliate Cecilia with slight after slight, drive a wedge between her and Jason, and by the end of the weekend break both her and the relationship. Instead what she ended up doing was setting off the girl's violent temper, to the point she actually was afraid of the Dominican and what she might be capable of doing. The girl was an obvious nut-case and probably extremely dangerous.

Once he calmed his temper, Jason's father felt somewhat differently about the matter. At first he was speechless with anger that she had stood up to him, because it had been many years since anyone dared to openly confront him. However, as he thought about it more, Mr. Schmidt realized something important. The reason no one ever confronted him was because the people in his life either wanted something from him or were too afraid to speak their minds. Cecilia Sanchez simply had been telling him the truth, or at least the truth as she saw it. He realized that she had spoken her mind in his presence precisely because there was nothing from him she wanted or needed. The experience was unpleasant, but at the same time there was something refreshing about having an honest argument with a person who felt free to speak her mind.

Whatever Cecilia was after in her relationship with his son, it was obvious that it wasn't the family's money. In their conversation during the afternoon she had made that blatantly clear. At the dinner table Cecilia expressed that she did have very strong ambitions, but they were the ambitions of someone who worked hard and was determined to make her own career and rise or sink on her own merits. Was there anything wrong with that? Perhaps that was why Jason, who at times really seemed so helpless in life, was drawn to her.

The Schmidts had a rather heated argument in the master bedroom concerning what to do about Jason and Cecilia. While Mrs. Schmidt demanded she be kicked out of the house immediately, her husband surprised her by insisting that no, he wanted Cecilia to stay, at least through Thanksgiving dinner.

"She's the first person I've talked to in years who's stood up to me. I don't like her, not any more than you do, but she's the most honest person I've spoken to in a very long time. Anyhow, there's Jason..."

"What about Jason? You really want him being with that crazy bitch?"

"Well... here's something for us to consider. At least that girl puts her cards on the table. You know what she's thinking, because she'll tell you. I'd rather have that then someone who's all-sweet to your face, but then, as soon as you drop your guard, stabs you in the back. To be honest, I was expecting Jason to bring home some sweet phony, and then we'd end up with another disaster on our hands, just like we did last year. At least this one lays it out for you and you know what's coming."

"Look. I want her out of here, because, quite frankly, I'm afraid of her. With that temper, who knows what she's capable of?"

"What she's capable of? She's capable of arguing. What's there to be afraid of about that? What would you rather have, an argumentative type with an accent, or a repeat of the Jones girl?"

"I don't want either. I would've thought the Jones girl taught Jason a lesson, and that he'd use common sense in choosing his next girlfriend. Now he's got one that's even worse."

"Common sense? With Jason? Yeah right. A Barbie doll has more common sense than he does. But I don't think that Sanchez girl is any worse than the Jones kid. At least she's a good student, and that seems to have worn off on Jason. Think about it. Were you expecting him to be doing as well in college as he's doing right now? I sure as hell wasn't. I mean, I was giving him a chance to go, just to say I tried. But really, I figured he'd flunk out by now and be back home. He seems to be doing fine, and that I wasn't expecting. I'm wondering if it's because of her."

"I don't believe this. You're actually defending that piece of trash. She insulted you, at your own table, and you're defending her."

"She didn't really insult me. She argued with me. Granted, it's a bunch of naïve bullshit from college, but... I can't say that she personally insulted me. And I'm not defending her. I just want to give it a bit more time to get some more information, and see what's really going on with Jason."

"What's going on with Jason is that he's in over his head with that girl."

"Have you talked to him? I mean, anytime during the semester?"

"No, I was too busy. Besides, that's your job. You're the father..."

"And I was working. Trying to support you three. So don't bitch to me about not having any time. You sure have a hell of a lot more time than I do. Anyhow, she's staying until tomorrow, because I'm going to talk to her and see what's going on."

"I want her out of this house now, and I'm not kidding. I want her out that door immediately."

"Well, what you want isn't happening, and that's final. I'm talking to her before she goes anywhere. If you have any further thoughts on the matter, I'm not interested in hearing them. You want your opinion to count, go get yourself a job and start paying some of the bills around here."

Mrs. Schmidt clenched her teeth with anger. However, there was nothing more for her to do about getting rid of Cecilia that night. In that house, Mr. Schmidt had the final word. As he constantly reminded everyone, it was his job and his money that had bought and furnished the residence, and continued to pay for the family's expensive lifestyle. Her daily life, her luncheons with her friends, and her constant escapes to the country club and the area's local spas all were on his credit account. She had not worked for nearly 20 years so she could spend more time relaxing and entertaining. But, in exchange for her pampered lifestyle, she had to put up with quite a bit. She had to put up with a husband who was becoming more arrogant, more bossy, and more egotistical with each passing year. He felt that his career and his position in society entitled him to many things in life, not the least of which was women. His constant infidelity was an ongoing humiliation for Mrs. Schmidt, but unfortunately the cost of leaving would have been too great for her to bear.

When Jason's parents left the table, Cecilia remained on edge for a good fight. Cassie and her two friends knew that she was perfectly willing to take them on if they dared say anything. Jason, meanwhile, was so stressed that he was directing all his energies to not throwing up. He should have known... he should have known... that his parents would be rude to Cecilia and that she would strike back.

After several minutes of very tense silence, Cecilia stood up and tapped Jason on the shoulder. He dutifully followed her to the guest bedroom. He had no idea what to say to her. He was horribly embarrassed and mortified at the disastrous first encounter between his girlfriend and his parents. It was Cecilia who broke the silence.

"I told you, Jason. I told you. I don't take shit from anyone, and I'm not gonna take it from your dad. Those two were diggin' at me all day and finally I had enough."

"I... I'm sorry... I'm really sorry..."

"About what? You didn't do anything. It's not your fault."

"I just feel... I mean to have put you though..."

"I can take care of myself. That's not a problem. You don't control what your dad says, and you don't control me. I don't want you apologizing for somethin' you don't have control over. Wait 'till you do something wrong, then you can apologize. But your dad and mom had better learn quick that I'm not takin' no shit from them."

Jason sat quietly, not sure what to say. Cecilia continued.

"What happened tonight's between me and your dad. It doesn't have anything to do with you, so I don't want you getting involved. I don't want you fightin' with your dad over me, but I don't want you takin' his shit either. I think that's your problem around here... your dad's got the money, so everyone's takin' his shit."

With that Cecilia changed the subject.

"Did you bring your textbooks with you?"

"I brought a couple of books, but I'm kinda... not in the mood for that right now."

"Jason, you gotta get in the mood. You just can't blow off your studies 'cause of your personal shit. They don't grade you on your personal shit. So get some work done tonight, before you go to bed."

"What about you?"

"I got work to do. A lot of it. I was wondering... if you got a place for me to plug in my laptop."

"The guest room has a connection behind the lamp-stand. I'm sure you can use that."

"OK, then I guess... it'll be goodnight. I'm checkin' your work tomorrow, so I want you doin' something before you go to bed."

She kissed him goodnight and with that the tumultuous day ended.

Mr. Schmidt stayed up late, watching football preview shows, as he normally did in the hours leading up to the games prior to Thanksgiving. He may have been a successful corporate lobbyist, but his fantasy always had been to play professional ball. He had played as a linebacker in high school and college in a sport suited for a large aggressive teenager used to having his way around people his own age.

As a teenager and college player, Mr. Schmidt was fascinated by the thought that, through doing something he loved doing anyway, he could make a massive amount of money and have it all. In college he had seen it, been close enough to the NFL to see what having it all really was. Yeah, those pros had what he wanted, the big house, the fancy women, the nice cars, the trips... and the money to do whatever they wanted. Mr. Schmidt desperately hoped to be a part of that world. The only detail that set him apart from some of the others aspiring to the NFL was his realization that wealth from playing can disappear as quickly as it appears. He had seen that as well, pro players who went through their money within a few years of retiring, or even had gone through it by the time their careers were winding down. Linebackers especially, seemed to not do too well with their finances. To Mr. Schmidt having it all meant keeping it all, so he studied business while playing. He realized the business world was to his liking, the ideals of competing and winning every bit as important as they are in the NFL.

In his junior year of college Mr. Schmidt had a horrible shock to his dreams. His coach leveled with him by telling him that he would not be large enough to be picked as linebacker in the NFL draft. He had to fall back on getting an MBA, and vented his frustration by doing well in his studies. His personality was suited for business school, so when one dream in life turned out not to be realistic, he had another one to fall back on. Yes, he still could have it all, but he would have to get it through the corporate world instead of the world of pro-sports.

The ideal of competition and being the winner never was far from Mr. Schmidt's mind, which was why he was so aggressive in his work and why he always "went with the winning team". In his case "the winning team" meant supporting the manipulations of Mega-Town Associates. Whenever he went to work, he imagined himself as part of a row of linebackers running down and trampling the opposing team for that much-coveted touchdown.

"Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."

Jason had been a huge disappointment to his father. The fact that he didn't play football was bad enough, but what really got to Mr. Schmidt was his son's passive personality. He didn't have that killer instinct, that drive to be on top, no matter what. Yes, he ran long-distance in high school and won an occasional race, but running isn't a man's sport like football. He just didn't have it.

Finally, at about 11:00 in the evening, Mr. Schmidt got tired of watching the same monotonous chatter about players and their statistics. He went to the basement to workout a bit to relieve his stress. Finally he decided to return to the Master bedroom, where his embittered wife was sleeping. He looked at her tennis player's figure, curled up under a blanket. Another disappointment.

He studied the back of her head, briefly fantasizing about putting a bullet into it. Yes, it would be so quick and easy... a single shot and that bitch's brains would splatter out onto the pillow. Then there would be no more nagging, no more constant digs about his mistresses, no more useless middle-aged female friends floating around the house chattering about tennis. Just a single shot... Of course, shooting his wife was out of the question. A woman gets killed, and the very first thing the cops do is blame the husband. Perhaps that says a lot about marriage. No, everything would go normally, everything as planned. Tomorrow this house would be full of useless people, his mother would come over, there'd be the usual hypocritical prayers, and the usual catered dinner... and they'd all live happily ever after.

Mr. Schmidt thought bitterly about the uselessness of his family. Jason was a wimp, and the two women, his wife and his daughter, were helpless country club ornaments. Worthless. His mistresses were no better... gold diggers... all of them. Dangle a piece of jewelry in front of them, and oh yes... they spread for you right away. They were all the same, white women, black women, Asians... show them the jewelry and they spread. Mr. Schmidt had been with so many women; he couldn't even remember them all. In the end they all looked alike, because they all wanted the same thing from him and were willing to do the same thing to get it.

Over the years the man's soul had stewed in his extreme cynicism. Perhaps he had gotten to the top, or at least pretty close to the top, but in the end, what difference did it make? Mr. Schmidt was surrounded by people he couldn't trust: helpless weak individuals who doted on him because he was the one with the money. The only other people in his life were peers and rivals, men with similar personalities and similar tastes. They socialized, but none could trust any of the others. They kept each other at arm's length, to prevent any weaknesses from showing.

Disgusted at the sight of his sleeping wife, Mr. Schmidt went back out into the hallway. He walked by the guestroom and noticed the light still on. Through a glass panel in the door he glanced at that nasty little Dominican, Jason's latest fiasco in life. She was wearing a pair of shorts and a loose T-shirt, with her bare legs flattened out slightly on the desk chair. Her hair was pulled back and she was hunched over her laptop. There were several sets of stapled papers spread around her, along with a couple of books. It was obvious she was intensely at work, probably with some school project.

Cecilia looked up briefly, not at the door, but off in the distance, thinking of how to phrase something. Even though she was alone, she still had that fierce look in her eyes that he remembered from the dinner table. Yeah that's right, you trashy little bitch, try to think about how to write a sentence without "gonna" in it. He shook his head as he stood in the darkness watching her. A real hellcat, this one was. Jason's latest disaster...

But as he thought about Cecilia, his words from earlier in the evening came back to him. "She's the first person I've talked to in years who's stood up to me... She's the most honest person I've spoken to in a very long time... At least that girl puts her cards on the table. You know what she's thinking, because she'll tell you."

Mr. Schmidt thought about the girl's blunt behavior. She had not gone out of her way to try to impress him, apart from her misdirected effort to be well dressed. He remembered his earlier observation that she had been honest with him because there was nothing from him she wanted or needed. That was refreshing, the idea of conversing with someone who didn't want anything from him. It was obvious the girl had character and guts, that she was firm in what she believed, and ready to defend herself. She was brave, recklessly so. She stood out in a life that was full cringing yes-men.

His resolve to talk to her the next day came back to him, a desire to find out why she was with Jason and what that might mean for his future. He would talk straight with her, and expect her to talk straight with him. He would try not to pre-judge her. He didn't like her, but there was something...something that made him not dismiss her as quickly as he dismissed most women.

Mr. Schmidt made the arrangements the following day to have Cecilia to himself. She helped his plans by getting up very early to continue with her work, typing out answers to the final questions from the list that Burnside had given her about Upper Danubia and the problems facing Vladim Dukov. Dressed in a warm sweatsuit, Mr. Schmidt approached the guest bedroom. Normally he would have just walked into the room, but this time, some slight hesitation in his mood forced him to knock.

Cecilia immediately stood up, her eyes full of both apprehension and combativeness. Obviously she was concerned about a continuation of the confrontation from the night before, but she felt trapped by her promise to herself "to take no shit" from either of Jason's parents. Mr. Schmidt's first words calmed her down slightly.

"Cecilia, you can put away your guns. I'd like to talk to you, but let's try to be a bit civilized about it. We'll keep Upper Danubia out of the conversation because right now I'm not interested in that topic."

"So, what do you wanna talk about, Mr. Schmidt?"

"Jason. I want to know what the score is on that. I'm his father, and I think I have a right to know what's going on between you two."

"We're goin' out, Mr. Schmidt. That's what we're doing."

"Yeah... you're going out with him. I think I had that part figured out. What I'd like to know is why."

Cecilia thought for a moment, and then answered as honestly as she could. "I think we're goin' out because, right now, we need each other. I feel... I gotta be with him, and I 'spose he feels the same way about me. I like bein' with him. I... I don't really know what else to say. I like bein' with him."

"OK. Fair enough, you like being with him. So, where do you think you're going with it? What's your next step?"

"My next step is I gotta get my degree, my BA. And Jason's gotta get his. We won't be doing anybody any good if we don't get our degrees. Then we can figure out what we're gonna do next. Graduate school, I suppose. Just a BA isn't much good anymore, 'cause too many people got 'em."

"I suppose you're right. You won't get too far on a BA these days. So you think you're headed straight to graduate school?"

"Yes, Mr. Schmidt, as long as I keep up my grades and keep my scholarship, I'm gonna study. Dr. Burnside told me to start thinkin' about what I might wanna look at for my Master's Thesis, so I can think about how I'm gonna specialize. But then, I think I gotta do a Ph.D. too."

"A Ph.D.? You're already thinking about that?"

"I gotta think about that now. I gotta figure out how I'm gonna specialize and what I'm interested in. Dr. Burnside keeps pushin' me to think about my future and what I wanna do, so yeah, I'm thinkin' about it now."

"So, where does Jason fit into all this?"

"He's gotta think about his future too. I guess I'm helpin' him with that, 'cause, you know, I'm pushin' him to do good in his classes. To me that's important."

"You're pushing him?"

"Yes, I'm pushin' him. I want him to do good so I keep pushin' him."

Mr. Schmidt thought to himself: OK, there's the answer to my question, why Jason's doing so well in school. No, it wasn't because he had any drive of his own. It was because of her.

"So, just how is it that you're pushing him?"

"Well, his biggest problem was Dr. Burnside's freshman economics class. It's a tough class and only about half the people in it pass each semester. Most of 'em flunk 'cause they fall behind. I've been makin' sure Jason doesn't fall behind. Every couple of nights I go into his room and look at his work. I make him talk to me about the class, to make sure he's got everything. Then he helps his friends, and I think that's helpin' him too, you know, havin' to explain it to someone else. And you know... he's done good so far. He's not dumb, and I think he thought he was before I started workin' with him."

"You actually think he's smart?"

"He's OK. He's smart enough. He's just gotta get motivated, and he'll do good."

"Motivated. So, just how did you motivate him?"

Cecilia paused, then decided to tell a portion of the truth.

"Jason, you know, he started out with all these dumb ideas about college back in August. He was gonna party, and run around, and have fun. And I told him, college isn't like that. You gotta work. Then the first week I saw that he and his friends were all scared about the Burnside class and wanted to drop it. So I told him, 'you can't drop that class 'cause you need it for a bunch of other requirements.' So he says to me 'oh I'll just take it later', and I say 'if you take it now, I'll help you. If you take it later, you're not gonna pass 'cause you're not gonna have any help.' So he stayed in, and his friends stayed in. And they're all gonna pass 'cause they did good on their term papers. I saw their grades, and they'll get their papers back next week."

Jason's father paused for a few seconds, as another question came into his mind.

"OK, so now I'm curious. Why? Why'd you spend so much time worried about Jason if you got all your other responsibilities?"

"Because he needed my help. I care about him and I wanna see him do well. And also, 'cause then he was able to help some the others. Not just his friends, but a couple of other students on the floor also. He likes helpin' people. He's not selfish, not at all, and I think helpin' the others made him feel really good about himself."

By now the other members of the household were up. Jason's mother walked by the door and shot a look of pure hatred at Cecilia through the glass panels. Jason came by and peeked through with a worried expression. Mr. Schmidt chased both of them away with a very hostile stare.

'This conversation absolutely has to continue,' he thought to himself. 'I've got this girl to open up to me, and if I keep her talking maybe I can finally figure out what's going on with Jason.'

"Cecilia, I want to step out with you for a little bit, if you don't mind. Maybe give both of us a chance to stretch our legs."

A few minutes later Cecilia was changed and the strange couple went out the front door into the very spread-out neighborhood for a walk along the cold, deserted sidewalks. Mr. Schmidt, recalling Cecilia's reaction to the area from the day before, posed a question.

"I'm sort of curious. You don't much care for our neighborhood, do you?"

"No, Mr. Schmidt. I don't much care for it."


"It's too empty. It's like... there's nothin' here. This place... it just... it kinda scares me, if you want the truth."

"It's one of the most exclusive neighborhoods north of Chicago. And you find it scary?"

"Yes, Mr. Schmidt. There's somethin' about it... that just doesn't feel right to me. I guess everything's just too big. That's my opinion, since you asked me for it."

"So what is your ideal neighborhood, since it isn't this one?"

Cecilia described Burnside's neighborhood, an ordinary development of ranch-style houses built in the 1960's. The houses, in spite of not being very spread out, were private. Most of the back yards had fences and the houses themselves crouched quietly behind trees and hedges. The modesty of the houses contrasted with the showiness of the houses in the Schmidts' neighborhood, where structures sat out in the open and stuck high into the air, those vaulted ceilings pushing rooftops ever higher.

"I like Dr. Burnside's neighborhood 'cause it's so quiet. I don't like a lot of noise, 'cause there was too much of it when I was growin' up. But there's stuff there, in that neighborhood: trees, animals, kids, people runnin' about... and that's what I'm lookin' for: a place to live, to be comfortable, a place to raise my kids and not have anyone mess with us. Maybe it's not all that much, but it's what I want."

"At age 19 you think you have everything figured out then, career, neighborhood...?"

"I don't have that much figured out, Mr. Schmidt. Right now I'm just figurin' out what I don't want out of life. Later on I'm gonna figure out what I do want."

Mr. Schmidt thought about himself at age 19, when he was playing college football and was convinced the NFL was to be his immediate future. Like Cecilia, he had big ambitions, but not in the same way she did. The order in which they wanted things out of life differed between them. He knew what he wanted, the NFL lifestyle. It had never occurred to Mr. Schmidt to try to figure out what he didn't want out of life until he already was very successful. Among the things he now realized was the reality that he probably shouldn't have married, because marriage placed some restrictions on his personal activities that he hadn't expected.

Other troubling thoughts were forcing their way into his consciousness. Deep down he was beginning, just beginning, to question whether or not he really had managed to buy happiness with his over-sized house. He bought it partly because he wanted to get his wife to shut up and push her off into the country club scene. Now she was about as useless as a person could be, never doing anything she could get a maid to take care of, and definitely not any happier. If anything she was more unpleasant than ever. As for all the fancy stuff they bought, the truth was that if it burned up the next day he really wouldn't care, as long as the insurance company paid for it. There was not a single item in the house to which he had any emotional attachment. Finally Mr. Schmidt responded, and in doing so subconsciously exposed his doubts about his own choices in life.

"Well, maybe you got things in the right order: eliminate what you don't want first, and then you can concentrate on what you do want. Sounds reasonable."

There was another long pause, as the pair watched a maid walk a couple of pure-breed dogs across a frost-covered park. One of the dogs dumped. The maid looked around, and upon noticing Mr. Schmidt and his companion, sighed and picked up the dump with a paper towel and put it in a paper bag. It was obvious she was disgusted having to handle dog poop, and only did so because there were people watching. Cecilia felt very uneasy as the thought of being so close to "cleanin' other people's shit" once again surfaced in her mind. Mr. Schmidt continued.

"Alright, so I'm still curious. What is it that you see in Jason? I mean, you've got a very strong character and it's obvious you've been through some stuff in your life. So what is it that makes you want to share your time with him?"

Cecilia thought about it, trying to figure out how to tell enough of the truth without telling the entire truth. She knew that she had to protect Jason, and thus talk more about herself than him. Finally she offered a partial confession about her own life.

"I care a great deal for Jason 'cause he doesn't give me shit. He's always very nice to me because he loves me, and he doesn't try to boss me around, and he doesn't try to change the way I am. That's very important to me. I gotta be with someone who's not gonna try to boss me around, and he doesn't."

"Why's that so important?"

"I... 'cause... when I was growin' up, all of 'em were tryin' to tell me what to do. I took a lot of shit when I was in school, just 'cause I wanted to get my degree and go to college. And they all made fun of me, 'cause I wanted to get good grades, I didn't cause trouble, and the teachers liked me. And now I think I know why, why they were all makin' fun of me. They were jealous, the girls, especially. They knew I wasn't gonna be like 'em... I wasn't gonna be havin' kids and gettin' my ass kicked by my boyfriend every night. They knew I was gonna get away, and that scared 'em. So they gave me shit 'cause it made 'em jealous. And my brother gave me shit 'cause I wouldn't hang out with his friends. And the guys at school gave me shit, 'cause I wouldn't sleep with 'em. And my mom gave me shit 'cause I was at the library instead of helpin' her. So I left, and I'm not going back, 'cause I'm not taking any more shit."

"Yeah, I guess I see your point. I guess I would've been pissed too, had things for me been like they were for you, growing up. But are you so sure that someone like Jason is what you need? I still can't see how... with your background, you'd see anything in someone like my son."

"Why? What's wrong with Jason?"

"If you want the truth, he doesn't have any character. Let's face it, that kid's a wimp. I honestly don't see how you can have any respect for him."

Cecilia paused, deeply offended that Jason's own father would say something like that. It was obvious that he held his son in complete contempt. Now she understood... if Jason's own father had such a low opinion of him, no wonder he was so disoriented when she first met him. There was plenty of anger in her voice when she made her next comment.

"Jason has plenty of character, Mr. Schmidt. He's the best guy I've ever been with. If you can't see that, then the only thing I can say is, I feel real sorry for you."

The fight had returned to Cecilia Sanchez. Clearly she was ready to defend him and her anger appeared genuine. The conversation took a sudden sinister turn when Jason's father responded.

"Well, I think there's some stuff about him that you still don't know. I stand by my comment that he doesn't have any character. I stand by that, and if you don't believe me, then you talk to him. Ask him about Heather Jones."

"Who's Heather Jones?"

"You're an inquisitive person. Ask him and find out."

It was clear to Cecilia that Mr. Schmidt had decided to stop the conversation at that point. Before he spoke with her again, he wanted her to find out about Heather Jones, whoever the hell she was...

Cecilia realized something else about Jason's father that frightened her. For a brief moment she had seen a hint of human feeling in him, a glimmer of self-doubt. Upon expressing his disdain for Jason, the older man had managed to suppress whatever humanity might have been inside him. His wall of contempt and hostility was back up, stronger than ever.

Cecilia understood that she had just concluded the only real conversation she would ever have with her future father-in-law.

They walked in silence back to the house.

Chapter 18 - Jason's Ghosts

There was no question that Cecilia needed to talk to Jason about Heather Jones. However, that would not be until she had some time alone with him, which wouldn't be until after Thanksgiving dinner at the earliest. Thanksgiving dinner was the next hurdle everyone had to get past.

Cecilia prepared herself psychologically to face the upcoming ordeal. She no longer was concerned about another fight with Jason's father. She knew that at least it was possible to talk to him in a civilized manner, presumably as long as the topics of Mega-Town Associates and Vladim Dukov were kept out of the conversation. Instead, she would have to worry about Mrs. Schmidt, and possibly Cassie. Cecilia's nemesis during the dinner would not be Jason's father, but Jason's mother.

Having failed to get that nasty little Dominican expelled from the house, Mrs. Schmidt spent the day thinking about the various slights and embarrassing questions she could pose to make her unwelcome guest as uncomfortable as possible. She would show her, once and for all, that she was where she did not belong. Jason knew his mother well enough to know what was coming, and knew his girlfriend enough to know what was coming. He would be trapped, sitting helplessly at the table, while the two women went to war. Cecila also knew what was coming, but refused to let him talk about it.

"Jason, just try studyin'. We got next week to think about and we're both gonna be busy, so worry about that instead of some stupid turkey dinner."

Mr. Schmidt anticipated the dinner with glee. His cynicism and secret contempt for everyone in his life came out full force in his mind as he looked forward having a meal with a bunch of people whom he couldn't stand and watching them fight. This was going to be good, watching the two bitches go at it while the wimp sat and cringed. He encouraged Cassie to invite her boyfriend... might as well get those two losers in on the action as well. And the Old Lady... she always liked the wimp... well, maybe she'd feel a bit differently after dinner.

A few minutes later Cassie and her boyfriend returned to the house with Jason's grandmother. She seemed nice enough, quietly shaking Cecilia's hand while Jason introduced her. She made a couple of pleasant comments about how well Jason was doing in college and that she hoped Cecilia felt at home in the Schmidts' house. Cecilia realized the older woman was actually being sincere; apparently she was too naïve to understand what was happening.

The two Salvadoran maids were ready to serve the dinner, which had been special-ordered by Mrs. Schmidt. The turkey, as expected, was impressive and perfectly cooked. Cecilia looked longingly at the meal and planned to eat to her heart's content. Jason sat quietly with sweat running down his face while his sister and her boyfriend glanced at Cecilia with blatant curiosity. Mr. Schmidt gave a brief prayer and then directed the two maids to cut up and serve the meal.

The opening salvo from Mrs. Schmidt came as soon as Cecilia's plate was set in front of her. In a tone of sweet sarcasm she asked:

"I suppose a nice turkey dinner is something new to you, so I hope you enjoy. Have you ever seen turkey before?"

"Yes Mrs. Schmidt. We used to go over to the YMCA and have turkey roll for Thanksgiving, along with all the homeless people. Mmm... I'll tell you, there ain't nothin' as good as hot turkey roll when you're starvin', 'cause, as you know, we don't have no fancy holiday dinners, 'cause we ain't got no supermarkets in New Jersey."

Mr. Schmidt smiled to himself while Cassie was trying to figure out if Cecilia was being serious. Cecilia stared right at Mrs. Schmidt, ready to fight. Her expression clearly stated: "There's a lot more where that came from, rich-bitch, so you wanna hear it?" Jason began sweating all that much more.

Mrs. Schmidt's eyes filled up with pure loathing. She glanced furiously at her husband, who just sat there with a smug look on his face. 'So that's it,' she thought to herself, 'no support, huh? Fine, I'll take her on myself if you're not going to help me out.' She stood up, tightened her lips, and slammed her fork down on the table. Suddenly Jason jumped up.

"Mom! Let it go! Just let it go! Can't you say something, just once, without insulting someone?"

Mrs. Schmidt stared at Jason, shocked at his sudden display of temper. She calmed down slightly and reluctantly sat down, disconcerted by the fact Jason was willing to stand up to her over Cecilia. She still planned to attack her son's guest, but with no support from her husband and facing the defiance of her son, she would have to think much harder about what she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it.

Cecilia was grateful that Jason was willing to stand up to his mother, but at the same time felt guilty. This was not his fight, it was hers, and she really did not want him to confront his parents. Mrs. Schmidt changed tactics, making some disparaging comments about the maids and then slipping a dig at Mr. Schmidt by criticizing men who slept with the hired help. Then there were some more digs at Cecilia, and finally additional questions about her family and background. The questions were not so much out of curiosity as intended to force the guest to discuss the more unsavory details of her life before college.

At that moment something rather strange happened inside Cecilia. A transformation took place within her as she faced her hostile audience. She had never wanted to talk about her past before, but suddenly the deep-seated fear she had about her prior life being exposed evaporated. This woman wants to know who I am. Fine, I'll let her know. I'll give her the facts, and then she's the one who'll have to deal with 'em.

Cecilia spent the rest of the dinner talking about her life. She left out very little, talking at length and in detail about the conditions at the housing project, her own struggles in school, her brothers' gang activities and arrests, her mother's boyfriends, her irresponsible cousin, and her neglected nephew. She talked about used needles and empty spray-paint cans littering the stairwells of her building, open drug dealing on the streets, and deadly turf fights between rival gang members who were not any older than Cassie.

She went on, describing the formidable struggle she endured to get her high school diploma and her naps in the public library just to be somewhere she didn't have to listen to her mother's television. Finally she described her escape and her personal indebtedness to Dr. Ruth Burnside. As she thought about all the barriers she had to overcome, she became rather proud of her accomplishments so far. She had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing at all.

The dinner ended with Mrs. Schmidt not saying anything. She hated Cecilia more than ever, but that no longer mattered. As badly as she may have wanted to get rid of her, it simply wasn't going to happen. The girl had planted herself in her son's life, was clearly capable of defending herself, and obviously wasn't going anywhere.

Mr. Schmidt did not like Cecilia either, but knew that he had to take her seriously and grudgingly respect her. The respect he had for her was conditional and somewhat hostile, similar to the respect he might have for a talented and successful business rival. However, considering the man's overall contempt for humanity in general and for women in particular, for him the opinion he had of Cecilia was comparatively positive.

Jason's grandmother finished the meal actually liking Cecilia. She had truly enjoyed watching the dinner guest match wits and temper against her son's odious, snobbish wife. Jason's girlfriend endured a battle she had not picked, but came out the winner. It was refreshing to see a girl with so much spunk and combativeness in her, one who was intelligent, worked hard, and could hold up in a good fight. Yes, she was just what Jason needed.

Later that night the family dispersed, leaving the huge empty house to Jason and Cecilia. Mr. Schmidt took off in his BMW to get together and drink with some business partners, Mrs. Schmidt left to hang out with some of her friends and relay the horror of what happened at the table over Thanksgiving Dinner, and Cassie left with her boyfriend to take her grandmother back home.

With the family members gone, Jason decided to take advantage of their absence to go skinny-dipping in the family pool. He invited Cecilia to join him, which she did with some reservations. She barely knew how to swim and never had gone into a swimming pool without a swimsuit. It was strange to see the empty pool, its smooth clean water beckoning from under the cavernous tent. The pool itself was large, almost as big as the crowded public swimming pool she visited occasionally while growing up. It felt very weird to be alone in such a large pool, and even stranger not to be wearing a swimsuit.

Cecilia admired Jason's bare body as he stood on the diving board. Yes, he did indeed make a lovely sight, his athletic body strangely lit by the pool lights and reflected on the water. Cecilia thought that it was only proper that such a body always remain uncovered. It was really too bad Jason couldn't always be like this...

As her boyfriend gracefully dove into the deep end, Cecilia waded out into shallow end. She went in far enough to allow the water to come up to her shoulders. She began enjoying herself... yes it really did feel better not to have to wear a swimsuit. Now she was glad to have forgotten to bring the garment because it had forced her to step away from her inhibitions. She enjoyed the feeling of the smooth cool water flowing over her body as she waded around and lightly splashed her arms in the water.

Noticing her reluctance to take her feet off the bottom of the pool, Jason stepped out and got a training board Cassie had used years before when learning how to swim. He handed the board to Cecilia and gently coaxed her to take her feet off the floor. She followed his lead, learning how to kick as he guided her around the shallow end of the pool by pulling on the board. At first she splashed very clumsily, but within a few minutes she had the hang of it.

A very strange sensation swept over Cecilia as her boyfriend gave her the impromptu swimming lesson. She felt almost like a child, splashing naked in the water and dependent on him for guidance and safety. He continued to gently guide her around as she improved the control over her legs. Eventually she splashed somewhat less and was able to propel herself forward. The test of the evening came when Jason suggested she flutter-kick herself to the deep end and back again, holding onto the board. Cecilia was terrified at the thought of not having the bottom of the pool close to her feet, but she trusted Jason enough to follow his suggestion. He swam alongside her as she slowly and nervously propelled herself across the pool. She gained some confidence as she made her way back to the shallow end, knowing he was there to rescue her if anything went wrong.

Cecilia then sat on the edge of the pool resting, as she watched Jason dive a couple more times. From the diving board he admired her bare figure as she sat dipping her feet in the water. She really was pretty, he thought to himself. He swam up to her and began kissing the insides of her thighs. She reacted in her usual manner, the stimulation making her lie back and spread her legs, her uncovered vagina begging him to bring pleasure to it with his mouth.

At first the only thing Jason could taste was the chlorine, but as she became more excited the familiar salty flavor of her body filled his mouth. She climaxed, and then slid into the water to join him. For a very long time they embraced and kissed. He stiffened and she became aroused again. They were just about to... when she remembered:

"Jason, you don't have a condom on."


"And you don't have one with you either?"

He shook his head. She backed away.

"Cecilia, please..."

"I can't. I can't risk it."

"Please... it's almost the end of your month... Can't we...?

"I can't, Jason. I'm not gonna risk it. I'm not gonna go through that again..."

"Go through what again?"

Cecilia's eyes filled with apprehension, as though she had just told him a dark secret she had not wanted him to know. She hesitated, then pushed him to the edge of the pool.

"Get up. Sit up on the edge."

When he obeyed, she pushed his thighs apart and began licking his penis. She gently encircled him with her lips and fingers while stimulated the tip with her tongue. It felt very good, but Jason knew that she did not much care for performing oral sex on a guy. What she was doing was changing the subject and diverting his attention from his last question.

He quickly came, squirting semen into her mouth and onto the lower part of her face. She continued licking the tip of his penis, but he could tell she was disgusted by what she was doing. Still, it felt very good and relieved him tremendously. He could tell she was relieved as well, having safely disposed of his dangerous erection.

She dipped her face into the water to rinse off and pulled him back into the pool. For a very long time the couple held onto each other, silently standing under the quiet tent as the pool lights gently reflected the moving water off the canopy above their heads. Cecilia placed her head against his chest, hugged him hard, and said nothing more.

The following day Mr. Schmidt broke the news that he would not be available to take Jason and Cecilia back to Chicago until Saturday at the earliest. He justified the delay by claiming he had critical projects to take care of at work.

That statement was only partially true. He did have work to take care of, but certainly nothing that couldn't wait until the following week. The truth was that he wanted to leave Cecilia in the house another day with the hope an open fight would break out between her and his wife. He wanted to give the two women every opportunity to make each other as miserable as possible.

He also loved the idea of forcing his wife to deal with a rival who was capable of matching her jibes and hidden insults with sarcasm and jibes of her own. Cecilia never directly insulted Mrs. Schmidt nor said anything that could be construed as a direct insult, but her sarcastic responses to the older woman's constant comments drove her into despair. By the third day Mrs. Schmidt's insults were becoming more open, but Cecilia kept her cool and calmly continued answering by mocking her rival's most outrageous statements with irony. Sometimes she delighted in telling a short story or antidote that sounded straightforward enough, until the very end when she added a sarcastic conclusion.

Another detail that drove Mrs. Schmidt to despair was the girl's bad grammar. Cecilia picked up on that and, whenever she was around Jason's mother, purposely spoke worse than normal. She even started highlighting her accent and inserting a few Spanish words into her speech, especially whenever the Tennis Queen made her disparaging comments about the maids or about Hispanics in general.

Friday morning Mrs. Schmidt simply gave up, fleeing to her country club to get away from the odious trespasser who had so thoroughly contaminated her house. She couldn't handle dealing with the girl's hostile sarcastic behavior, listening to her grating accent, and hearing her constant use of "ain't". She would have the place fumigated and cleaned as soon as that Sanchez girl was gone. Undoubtedly she was unclean and probably had brought disease into the house. Yes, the place needed a good cleaning once that horrible deviant was taken out.

As soon as Jason's mother left, Cecilia decided to spend the day finishing up a term paper and reviewing for finals, which were just three weeks away. Obviously Jason would have to study as well. However, there was a surprise coming to the young couple, a phone call from Jason's grandmother telling him that she had sent a friend to pick them up to have lunch with her.

Shortly afterwards a jovial man about 65 years old came by and rang the doorbell. He was driving an old Chevy, just like the one Cecilia's mother had but in much better condition. The car either had been restored or had been properly taken care of, and it was interesting to see what her own family's car would have looked like when it was new.

Jason invited his grandmother's friend to come in, but he refused. Instead, he said something Cecilia found very interesting.

"You really think I'd want to go in there? Come-on, now. Your grandma says I'm crazy, but I'm not that crazy. Now, let's get you two out of here."

A few minutes later they were speeding out of the neighborhood and onto a public road. Cecilia breathed a huge sigh of relief at the thought of getting out of that oppressive place for a few hours and seeing something normal. Jason, too, for the first time in his life, also felt relieved to be getting out of his parents' house. He felt upbeat, but at first couldn't understand why.

The trip took them through a couple of small rural towns to a condominium development. It was 20 minutes and a world away from the area they had left, condos occupied by older and middle-aged residents. The units were nice and kept up, but there was nothing ostentatious about them.

As soon as they entered her condominium, the reason for the invitation from Jason's grandmother became clear. She was interested in getting to know Cecilia better and that interest was genuine. She was fascinated by the young woman who had matched wits with her obnoxious daughter-in-law the day before. Cecilia knew right away that, with Jason's grandmother, she could let down her guard and enjoy a normal conversation.

Two generations separated the two couples at the table, but they were able to converse freely and casually. There was talk about how their university had changed over the years, some talk about cars, and finally some talk about the Schmidts' neighborhood. Jason and his grandmother's friend then decided to watch part of a college football game while the two women continued talking in the kitchen. With the two males now out of the room, the topic of conversation shifted to Jason's parents and the unpleasant experience at their dinner table the day before. What her hostess had to say about Jason's mother surprised Cecilia.

"You know, she wasn't always like that. She was a really nice girl when I first met her, and even when they got married. I liked her a lot. What you're seeing now, that didn't happen until later. I hate to say this, but the truth is, it was my son who ruined her."

Noting Cecilia's surprised expression, Jason's grandmother continued.

"My son... I just don't know about him. I never really figured him out, 'cause he was always so different from me and Bob (that's my late husband). I guess he's always had this... 'gotta win' personality. For him it's all about competing and winning. There isn't anything else. He can't be happy unless he's on top, and it's been that way ever since he was little. He's always had to be Mr. Big Shot... you know... never happy unless he was stomping on someone else. Everyone's afraid of him, and that's what he likes, everybody to be afraid of him. And my daughter-in-law became that way too. I guess she had to, if she wanted to keep her sanity around him. That part I can understand, but still, it was kind of sad to see it happen. She's become so obnoxious, she's now worse than he is. I honestly can't put up with being around her anymore."

The conversation turned to Cecilia's life and interests. She talked at length about her research and preparing for the upcoming visit of the Danubian Prime Minister Vladim Dukov, and finally mentioned her correspondence with Kimberly Lee of "Socrates' Mistresses".

"I love that group! But I haven't seen their music for nearly a year. So they're still around?"

Cecilia explained about the breach of contract suit and the fact the band's music could only be purchased in Upper Danubia. Jason's grandmother responded by asking if Cecilia could get her a copy of the group's latest music.

"I 'spose so, Mrs. Schmidt. I'll see if I can get Kim Lee to send you the band's CD's. They're pretty good about helpin' out fans who can't get their music."

As the afternoon progressed, the two women found out they had a lot in common, in spite of their very different backgrounds. Jason's grandmother was deeply impressed by her guest and clearly signaled her approval of the relationship.

"You're a good kid, and it's pretty obvious you're going far. I can see that in you. And I want to thank you for all the help you've given Jason this semester. I don't know if you realize how much it's helped him, and I, for one, am very grateful for the time you've spent with him. It makes me really happy to see it, because, as you know, his father was convinced he'd flop in college. I'm glad to see my son proved wrong. It's nice to see Jason straightening himself up and putting his life back together."

The words "straightening himself up and putting his life back together" stuck in Cecilia's thoughts. She wondered if that comment had anything to do with Mr. Schmidt's "Heather Jones" remark from the day before. It became obvious there was something in his past that Jason had not wanted to tell her.

Later that night Cecilia and Jason could feel the oppressive neighborhood close in on them as the older couple took them back. Jason's grandmother decided to accompany them back to her son's house, using the need to pick up a couple of dishes as justification for going. The truth was she felt it would be a good idea to go in with them and make sure everything was calm at least for the first few minutes they were settling in. She also wanted to signal her approval of Cecilia, and in doing so offset her daughter-in-law's vehement opposition.

Fortunately it was late and Jason's mother already had locked herself in the Master bedroom. Jason's father was watching a football game in the living room. Seeing his mother walk in with Cecilia silenced whatever comment he might have wanted to make to either of them. He didn't have that much to say to her, but got up to retrieve the dishes she wanted. As soon as the older couple was out the door, he announced that he was planning to take Jason and Cecilia back early the next morning, so he expected them to be packed up and ready to leave as soon as he was awake.

The next morning they left in the pre-dawn cold of a late fall morning. The reason for the early departure became evident as soon as Jason's father turned on the car radio, a big snowstorm was expected later that afternoon and it was very likely roads would start closing by sunset. Mr. Schmidt would drop off the two students at the university, and then head over to a studio apartment he rented near his downtown office and weather the storm there.

The detail of the apartment added another mystery to the relationship between Jason and his father. Mr. Schmidt had not only his job, but also a second residence, in downtown Chicago, less then 20 miles from the university. However, Jason never mentioned anything about that. Had he even seen his father's apartment? Had he ever gone over there to visit?

As she watched the fields of southern Wisconsin transform into the suburbs of northern Illinois, she tried to comprehend all that she had learned that weekend. She had some of her questions answered, but now there were others she needed to resolve. Something just was not right. Like separate pieces of a puzzle, Cecilia began to ponder how the clues she had picked up about Jason and his relationship with his parents fit together. There was the Heather Jones comment and Mr. Schmidt's insistence that Jason had no character. There was his grandmother's comment about Jason "straightening himself up and putting his life back together". There was the fact that Jason's father treated him with absolute contempt. He paid Jason's bills, but otherwise ignored him. And there was the fact that Jason did not have a car, never drove in Wisconsin, and made no mention to his parents of driving Mike's car during his first dates with Cecilia. She began to wonder if he wasn't supposed to drive.

Cecilia had thought about asking Jason about Heather Jones, but decided not to. Mr. Schmidt had told her to ask, but she felt she couldn't trust anything Jason's father had to say. She decided to avoid his advice and not ask directly, but instead see if she could find out anything on her own.

When Mr. Schmidt dropped the two students off at the dorm, he brusquely said goodbye and sped off to his own refuge, that studio apartment downtown. He planned to spend the night with an employee of his firm's coffee shop. He needed to get both her and their dinner safely settled into the apartment before it started snowing. Sunday the city would be shut down and Monday traffic would be completely disrupted. Not that it mattered to Mr. Schmidt. His work was a five-minute walk from his apartment. He would be at his desk on time Monday morning, ready to issue reprimands to employees who came in late due to the traffic problems. As he always put it: "The company's not paying you to sit in traffic. We're paying you to be at work on time." The fact that his subordinates didn't have money for an apartment close to work wasn't his problem.

Words could not describe how happy Cecilia was to be back safely in her dorm room. She fought back the urge to get on her knees and kiss the floor. Oh... she would sleep well tonight, in her own bed, in her own small space on the planet, her own tiny, quiet refuge. Maybe it wasn't much, but it was hers.

The first thing Cecilia did was get on the Internet. Four days of messages were waiting for her attention, including a couple of e-mails from Kimberly Lee. That reminded Cecilia to ask about CD's for Jason's grandmother. After she typed out her explanation about the need for the CD's, she decided to share her experience about the argument with Mr. Schmidt and his views about the Danubian Prime Minister. That led to an explanation of the complete difference between Mr. Schmidt and his mother and the entire dysfunctional nature of Jason's parents. She concluded with:

"I can't believe how much hatred there is in that family, and what's weird is that they hate each other for no reason. They don't have any of the problems my family had when I was growing up, but they're just as miserable, or maybe even more miserable. The members of my family in New Jersey all got on each other's nerves because we were jammed together in that small apartment. I don't think anyone in my family actually hated anyone else, at least not until I got ready to take off for Chicago. We just got on each other's nerves, and that wasn't the same as what's going on with the Schmidts."

As soon as she sent the e-mail to Kimberly Lee, Cecilia decided to try to find out about Heather Jones. She began searching the name on the Internet by itself, but of course came up hundreds of responses. She began narrowing the search by typing the name with local county names and the names of the towns close to where Jason lived while in high school. Finally she found something, a news article from about a year before. She read:

Two teens charged after fatal crash

Carterville Daily Press - Dec 10 10:34 AM
The Carterville District Attorney's Office decided to press charges today against two teenagers involved in last week's fatal crash that resulted in the deaths of three local high school students. The teenagers, Matthew Fox, Heather Jones, and Kate Simpson were killed during a collision that local police believe was the result of drag racing. The two teenagers facing charges are William Davis and Jason Schmidt.

Carterville County Sheriff's Department Spokesman Raymond Wright announced that the charges would include manslaughter, reckless driving, and driving under the influence. He added that the investigation was ongoing and additional charges were pending. He concluded that the Sheriff's office hopes to prosecute the two teenagers as adults.

"There's a lot more to this than a simple drag racing incident. Those kids were driving under the influence, and it wasn't alcohol. We can't go into details right now because we're still investigating. We're going to be interviewing kids at the school next week, and we're asking parents to tell their children they need to cooperate with us. There's some serious stuff going on here, and we need everyone's cooperation and support."

Detective Wright reminded the press that last week's tragedy was the third such incident resulting in a fatality since the beginning of the school year. "Let this be a lesson to the community, you've just got to watch your kids. A teenager is not an adult and..."

The rest of the article did not directly talk about Jason, so Cecilia quit reading. She highlighted the text to copy into a blank word processing document and saved it. She was not particularly surprised or shocked, because she had known that something terrible must have happened to her boyfriend last year. So this was it, reckless driving that resulted in a fatal crash. It explained a lot, but not everything.

Manslaughter, reckless driving, and driving under the influence. Pretty serious charges, and yet Jason was not sitting in jail. Just how did he get out of it? That was the next question she wanted to answer. She continued searching

Within a few minutes she found a couple of articles about the wreck itself. Cecilia knew enough about life to realize the accident was the predictable result of rich kids with too much time on their hands and too little supervision. There was a group of teenagers who had taken over a back road to drag race, do wheelies in a nearby field, and play "chicken". The weather was relatively warm for that time of the year, so a group of about 20 students gathered to waste a Thursday night in the countryside. The teenagers did not have any alcohol, because they did not need it. Instead, they were using ecstasy.

By midnight the group had expanded to about 40 students and already had wrecked one car. From that rollover there were no injuries, oddly enough considering the damage done to the car. But the dares were getting more outrageous. At about 1:30 Jason Schmidt and William Davis, at the urging of their respective girlfriends, decided to race. Both cars had sunroofs, so the two girls decided stand up through the openings, lit two flares, and held them up during the competition. So, two teenagers, high on ecstasy, with their two girlfriends, also high on ecstasy, barreled down the road. It was Matthew Fox who added the final touch to the impending disaster. He was coming down off his own high and had decided to head home after fighting with his girlfriend. He was unaware of the race as he incoherently turned out onto the road.

The disaster happened in an instant. The two racing vehicles rammed Matthew Fox's car on the driver's side, killing him instantly. Heather Jones and Kate Simpson were thrown from their respective cars, their bodies tumbling across the pavement as Fox's vehicle burst into flames. The airbags in the two racing cars deployed, saving Jason and William from serious injury. In fact, Jason was not injured at all, because he was wearing his seatbelt.

Acting on nothing but instinct, the two dazed racers stumbled out of their cars and away from the fire, which was fortunate. Moments later the two colliding cars burst into flames as well. The combined fire lit up the entire area with ominous orange light as the combined smell of burning gasoline, burning rubber, and Matthew's burning flesh permeated the air.

There was nothing that could be done for either Heather or Kate. They were as dead as could be; their prostrate bodies lying horribly twisted and disfigured on the cold pavement. The girls' two flares continued to burn further down the road, having rolled a very long way from the crash-site. How fast it all had happened! There was nothing left to do except call Emergency Services. Many of the spectators panicked and fled, some of them nearly colliding with incoming fire trucks and ambulances. Jason and William, their minds addled with ecstasy, simply stood on the road watching the firemen douse the flames, wondering if this was real or just a bad trip. Shortly afterwards they were at the Carterville Community Hospital Emergency Room, being examined for injuries pending a trip to the police station.

Cecilia calmly copied the text from the articles and saved it into separate documents. There were some pictures as well, including yearbook photos and mugshots of Jason and William Davis, as well as a couple of police photos of the crash site taken the next day. She tried to disassociate herself from the horror Jason must have endured as a result of his stupidity. Right now she was collecting information. The reaction would set in later, once she had all the facts. She continued looking, trying to find out why Jason had not gone to jail. Finally she came across the following:

Drag racing teen indicted for drug dealing

Carterville Daily Press - Jan 29 11:57 AM
The Carterville District Attorney's Office announced indictments today against former Carterville Central High School student William Davis, 17 and his brother Mark Davis, 20, for their role in distributing ecstasy among students in two Carterville-area high schools.

The District Attorney's Office announced that the charge of possession of ecstasy with intent to distribute against William Davis would be added to the charges of manslaughter, reckless driving, and driving under the influence, stemming from the crash last December that resulted in the deaths of three local teens. The DA's office also announced that Davis will be tried as an adult and prosecuted "to the fullest extent of the law."

Davis' co-defendant, Jason Schmidt, pled guilty to reckless driving and driving under the influence. In exchange for the plea and his testimony, the District Attorney agreed to drop the other charges pending against him, which included manslaughter. Schmidt will lose all driving privileges until he is 21, perform 200 hours of community service, and receive counseling until he graduates from high school.

When asked about the difference between the treatment of the two defendants the DA responded. "I'm convinced the Schmidt kid was duped. He's basically a nice kid that just fell in with the wrong group, but he is going to need to think about where he's going with his life and get some counseling to get over this.

"As for Davis, that's a different story because the group was getting the ecstasy from him and his brother. We got him with 130 doses of ecstasy and 8 ounces of marijuana, and he was on probation for a prior. The brother who got him the stuff was out on parole, so we're going to nail them both.

"What gets to us in the DA's office is that these all kids are from good families. They're not a bunch of bums. But, you give 'em too much down time and throw in some drugs, and, well, you end up with a tragedy like what we had out on Miller Road..."

Once again the article diverged into a moralistic lecture to the county's parents. Apparently the local officials liked to do that, preach to the community, but unfortunately they were right. Indeed, what was Jason doing out on a country road at 1:30 on a Thursday night? Of course, Cecilia knew the answer, because she had met his parents.

Oddly enough, what angered Cecilia the most was not what happened, nor even the fact that Jason had kept it from her, but instead the detail about his driving. Throughout the semester he had placed both of them at risk by driving to their downtown dinner dates in Mike's car. The driving most definitely would stop, Cecilia would see to that. If it meant no more fancy dinners in downtown Chicago, well, that's the way it would have to be. Jason had no right to place them at risk like that, driving with no license, even if his goal simply was to make her happy.

She pondered what to do with the information. She now knew Jason's secret. Yes, it was a pretty bad secret, but she no longer was sure she wanted to confront him over it. She badly wanted him to come clean and confess to her. She knew it would be extremely important that he work up the courage to do it on his own, instead of her having to drag it out of him. She knew that would be vital for their future as a couple, he absolutely had to face up to what he did and admit it to her.

Cecilia Sanchez' thoughts moved to her own dark secret, a horrid memory that came back to her when she was discussing her life with the Schmidts. There was one detail she left out, an incident that, more than anything else in her squalid life as a teenager, defined who she was and what she wanted from life. Her own secret was the second reason she was reluctant to confront Jason about the wreck. How could she attack Jason about trying to deceive her about his past, when she was doing the exact same thing to him?

She turned out the light and stared out the window while she waited for him to call. As she watched the snow build up on the ground outside she thought to herself:

'I guess it's only fair that me and Jason end up together. Both of us got blood on our hands.'

Chapter 19 - Two Confessions

Jason was very happy to get back to his dorm room. Before he settled down to study, he decided to get cleaned up. He somehow felt unclean, contaminated by the extremely unpleasant three days he had just endured. The trip had badly unsettled him, because for the first time in his life he realized how dysfunctional and unpleasant his parents truly were.

He was absolutely horrified at the grotesque way they had treated Cecilia. They certainly didn't care whether or not he was happy with her. They had made absolutely no effort whatsoever to be courteous to her, having dismissed her outright with hostile glances before she even had a chance to speak to them. Both his mother and his father, each in their own way, had hoped to humiliate her and break up the relationship. What caught them off-guard was his girlfriend's strong personality and her determination to strike back if she was offended.

The Thanksgiving fiasco was the latest painful encounter he had endured at the hands of his parents. There had been plenty of others, especially since last December. His father made no effort to conceal his total contempt for Jason, and his mother simply ignored him. There wasn't much he could do however, because his father paid all his bills. He felt trapped by his situation or, as Cecilia put it, he constantly had to "put up with his dad's shit".

He wondered if either of his parents really loved him at all, or if they were simply going through the motions of parenting. He wondered how much they really cared about his life. It didn't seem like they cared all that much, given the fact that neither of them bothered to maintain any communication with him for the first three months he was in college. They just paid his tuition and turned him loose to sink or swim. He now wondered if his father secretly hoped that he would fail his classes, and thus be able to remind him what a miserable, pathetic loser he really was. Oh, he heard that plenty at the end of last year, what a totally worthless person he had become, with his ecstasy use and drag racing and criminal record. Had he failed his college classes, he would have returned home to listen to that all over again.

But he didn't fail during the first semester. He was doing much better than he possibly could have expected, likely to get a "B" in Burnside's class and "A's" in everything else. Who would have expected that? The answer was no one, except Cecilia. She was the one who knew he could do it. She also was the one who insisted he do it, the one who insisted he succeed. She knew how to make him successful. She didn't waste any time giving vague encouragement, but instead actually made him sit down, do the work, and acquire the knowledge he needed to pass his classes. She seemed to know his strengths and weaknesses, and was determined to make him use his strengths to overcome his weaknesses. She was harsh and demanding when she needed to be, and supportive and understanding when she needed to be. Most importantly, she loved him enough to spend whatever time she needed to make sure he did not fall behind.

Whatever I've accomplished this semester, it's because of her, thought Jason to himself.

That Saturday night, as the snow piled up outside and the empty dorm building sat eerily silent, Jason found it very hard to concentrate. He contemplated his father's utter contempt for his life and his actions, his thoughts wandering back to that horrible night when all his weaknesses caught up with him. As both his father and his counselor kept reminding him, ultimately he had no one to blame but himself for that fiery wreck and the deaths of three people. Had he just used some common sense instead of chasing after his emotions of the moment, it wouldn't have happened. None of it would have happened.

The DA said that he had been duped. The plea bargain let him off with absolutely the lightest sentence that was politically possible, suspension of driving privileges for three years and 200 hours cleaning bathrooms at a state hospital. Jason had been duped, he had indeed fallen in with the wrong crowd, but really, whose fault was that? Yes, he could say that it was peer pressure, or even the resentment and hurt over his father's dismissal of his achievements on the track field, but ultimately it was his own choices that led up to the car crash. It was Jason who had decided to change his group of friends, it was Jason who decided to turn his back on the girl he had been dating for more than a year, and it was Jason who decided to chase after the elusive and difficult Heather Jones. Those were his decisions, no one else's.

Prior to his interest in Heather, he had been dating Amanda Galloway, a fellow long-distance runner from the track team. The two seemed perfectly suited for each other, spending much of their time exercising and jogging together. Their lives consisted of their sport, but for Jason that became a problem. He started to get bored being with a girl who only seemed interested in running, and began to look for something different.

That something different turned out to be Heather and the school's party crowd. Unlike Amanda, Heather was not an easy girl to get along with. The fact she was so hard to impress made her all that more attractive to anyone who wanted a challenge. She made life a living hell for any guy she happened to be with at the moment and ultimately ended up dumping whomever she was dating after a few weeks, but that seemed to only increase her desirability for many of her classmates. She went through numerous popular guys, including several football players and the valedictorian from the previous year's graduating class.

When she showed interest in Jason, he jumped, at the time not thinking about the consequences of what he was doing. At the beginning of November he dropped Amanda, who was devastated when he broke up with her. With that he changed not only his girlfriend, but also his circle of other friends. After leaving Amanda he felt he really couldn't hang out with the track team members anymore. He ended up trying to ingratiate his way into Heather's clique and impress them instead.

What Jason did not realize was that his new girlfriend was playing with his emotions. Heather's main goal had been to get him away from Amanda. Once she accomplished that, she toyed with his feelings and enjoyed watching him desperately try to please her. He started using ecstasy and smoking marijuana to be part of her crowd. He took her to a couple of raves, even though he had no desire to do that at all. At the end of November he tried his hand at drag racing for the first time, which was one thing Heather seemed to enjoy doing.

Two weeks after Jason's first attempt to race, he tried it a second time, mainly because Heather had made a bet with her friend Kate Simpson. She gave him an ecstasy tablet to help him overcome his fear and make sure he was more likely to win. She took a tablet herself, waited for it to take effect, and pulled a flare out of the trunk of Jason's car. She stood up through the sunroof, lit the flare and started screaming. Jason and William took off. The crash that ended the two girls' lives happened less than 30 seconds later.

The two months following the crash were an ongoing hell for Jason. The horror of multiple court appearances, the endless consultations with his father's attorney, the real fear that he might actually be going to jail for several years, the endless hours of community service, the constant insulting comments by his parents, and the ostracism he faced in school became the new realities of his life.

The party crowd's existence was disrupted in a big way, as police and school officials descended on them in a huge ecstasy investigation. The county officials needed someone to scapegoat for the triple tragedy, but in the end William Davis and his brother turned out to be much better targets for blame than Jason. Both Jason's counselor and his father's attorney convinced him that he owed absolutely no loyalty to his new friends. Instead, he needed to save himself by testifying in court against William.

He returned to his classes and did well enough during the final months to graduate. However, he spent the spring semester completely alone since no one in the school wanted to talk to him. He had betrayed two sets of friends and made himself a total outcast. The hardest part of it all was whenever he bumped into Amanda in the hallway. She quietly stared at him with extreme hurt and extreme anger, but what could he say to her? What could he say to any of his former friends?

The weight of those memories pressed in on Jason. That was his dark secret, the thing he had wanted to put into the past forever. He thought he had succeeded, but the trip home had brought everything back as clearly as if it had happened just the day before. No, he would never escape.

A new thought passed through his mind. What if Cecilia found out? How on earth would she react? When she was talking alone to his father... had he told her anything?

For a very long time Jason sat immobilized in his room, completely tormented by the fear Cecilia might find out his secret from high school. His inner turmoil became worse as he realized that her finding out was not a matter of if, but when. She would indeed find out, there was no doubt about it, because it was part of her nature to find things out. She always had uncovered everything else about him. He drew a very deep breath. He... needed to tell her... she was going to find out anyway... better that he tell her himself.

He was startled when his phone rang. He picked up, knowing that it was Cecilia. Who else could it be?

"Jason, aren't you ready yet? It's 11:00 and I'm waitin' for you."

"I... I didn't study... I don't... I was thinking about some other stuff... and I... just forgot."

"What other stuff? I'm warnin' you, don't you be blowin' off your studies. You're almost done with the semester. You just got three weeks left. Do your finals, then you can think about that other stuff..."

"I can't. Tonight I just can't..."

He couldn't say anything else. For a long time he just sat in silence. Finally she got impatient.

"Alright. I'm comin' over and I'll take you back to my room. Maybe if you can talk about it you'll feel better."

A couple of minutes later she was at his door and escorting him to her room. She could tell right away he was very distressed, struggling with some internal issue. She suspected, or hoped, that she knew what it was. He was close to confessing. All he needed was the tiniest bit of encouragement.

"You're still upset about your folks?"

"I... yeah. I'm still kinda embarrassed about it."

"Look. I'm not mad about the trip, Jason. I told you I'm not mad. It wasn't your fault. I don't want you worryin' about that. I can tell you, if I'd taken you to my place, it would've been just as bad for you. My brothers aren't all that nice, especially if you're not from the project."

"There's... more to it than what I've told you. A lot more. Dad and Mom have their reason to be mad at me. What happened was they took it out on you."

"How come they're mad? What'd you do?"

Jason sat down and stared at the floor. He felt sick and his hands shook as he tried to figure out how on earth he was going to tell her.

"What'd you do, Jason? Why are you all upset like this?"

Finally he blurted out a confession, speaking so fast that Cecilia had a hard time following what he was saying.

"My parents... I mean I... I mean... last year I killed someone... I killed my girlfriend... I mean like, uh... not on purpose... but I... I like... was on ecstasy and driving fast 'cause we were racing and crashed and she fell out and it blew up and she was all ripped up on the street I mean like, uh, her and her friend, they were all dead and stuff and the other guy was burning up and we were just standing there and everyone took off and I was stoned and I thought it was a bad trip... and she was just lying there all dead and busted up and blood all over the street and her jacket all torn open and... I... I didn't wanna tell you this... but... I..."

She realized he was having a flashback by the tormented look on his face and his incoherent speech. Nevertheless, she was enormously relieved. He had done it! He had confessed, and mostly on his own.

Cecilia's mind moved to her next two tasks, getting him to calm down and getting the complete story out of him. She already knew most of the story, but what she did not know was what was on Jason's mind as the consequences from the accident ran their course through his life. She pretended to be surprised. She took his arm.

"Jason... Jason. You gotta calm down! Please... you gotta calm down! Now... what are you talkin' about? Who got killed?"

Over the next hour the story came out in pieces, but the details matched what was in the newspaper articles now saved on Cecilia's hard drive. Because she already knew what had happened, she was more interested in knowing what was going on in Jason's mind instead of hearing about the crash itself. She became especially interested in learning the details of his relationships with Amanda and Heather and in finding out why his father would have accused him of having no character. She also wanted to know how he had changed since the crash. As always, she was interested in finding out as much as she could to expand her control over his life, but she also wanted to help him get past the incident and perhaps finally break free from his guilt. Jason confessed, convinced that Cecilia would leave him as soon as he was finished talking. He was sure that he had disgraced himself and that no woman who knew about the accident could ever stay with him. Now Cecilia knew, and momentarily she would be telling him to get out of her room. Once again, he would be alone, ostracized because of his stupidity. Her next words surprised him.

"I got a question for you. You're telling me that you're not 'sposed to drive 'till you're 21, right?"

"No. I'm not supposed to drive."

"Then how come you're drivin' Mike's car? When you take me out, I mean?"

"I... kinda wanted things to be, you know, like, normal between us when I took you out."

"Well they're not normal, are they? You're not 'sposed to drive, and you got no right puttin' yourself at risk like that. What'd happen if the cops stop you?"

"I'd probably have to go back to court and get re-sentenced, 'cause it's a violation."

"You'd get re-sentenced 'cause it's a violation. You get re-sentenced, and what good's that gonna do me? I don't need you sittin' in jail, so you're not drivin' any more! Get it? You're not drivin' any more! Don't you ever let me catch you drivin' again, 'cause if you do, I'll whip your ass so hard you'll be bleedin' when I'm done! I mean that, so don't try me!"

For a long time Jason was silent. Ironically, he felt a huge burden lift from his soul. He realized, precisely because of the threat to punish him, that she had no intention of leaving. She now knew, in detail, his darkest secret, and yet she was not going to abandon him.

He hugged her hard, as tears ran down his cheeks. Words could not have described the relief he felt at that moment. He had conquered his biggest fear, actually putting into words what had happened on Miller Road. Cecilia now knew about that part of his life, and to his surprise, actually accepted it. She loved him enough to actually accept something so terrible about him.

Cecilia had her own ghost, one that she had carried with her since she was 15. It was because of her own inner torment that it was so important to her that Jason confess about his role in the death of Heather Jones. Now that Jason had confessed and conquered his fears, it was her turn. She separated from him and told him to sit down.

She walked to the window and watched the snow continue to pile up for a few minutes, while Jason nervously watched her. Without looking at him she began speaking.

"You know, that I... I'm not that nice of a person. I'm kinda bossy, I gotta be in charge, and when you're with me, I gotta have everything done my way. And I got this thing in me... that makes me... I guess, kinda get nasty whenever I think someone wants to give me shit. Your parents got to see that part of me up close, but it's even more true with guys. I can't take shit from a guy. That's why I love you, cause you're the first guy I've been with who doesn't give me shit."

She looked back at him. Their eyes met and she continued.

"There's something real important that you gotta know, that I gotta tell you. I'm warnin' you now, it's something about me that's never gonna change. No matter what happens between us, you're always gonna have to do what I tell you. It won't ever be any different, and if you wanna spend your time with me, you're just gonna have to accept it. I'm not tryin' to scare you. I'm just tryin' to be honest. I can't do it any other way... in a relationship, I mean. I'm gonna have to be in charge, and you're gonna have to live with that."

Cecilia's blunt words scared Jason. He didn't know how to respond. She continued.

"I'm tellin' you this... 'cause I got my reasons... of bein' the way I am. It's 'cause of somethin' that happened to me four years ago. I haven't talked about it to anyone in four years, but... I'm gonna have to tell you, and the only reason I'm tellin' you is so you'll understand me. Right now there's only three people who know about it, a social worker, a doctor, and a nurse... and well, I guess a receptionist too. You're gonna be the only other person who'll ever know, 'cause I'm never gonna tell anyone else, and you aren't either."

She struggled to catch her breath and continued: "You're not the only person in this room with blood on your hands, Jason. I got blood on my hands, too. That's why I don't have any right to be pissed about your car accident. I'm not any better than you."

Cecilia's thoughts moved back in time four years. Four years! She couldn't believe it had been four years already. Instead of giving Jason the story piecemeal, she decided to start at the beginning and narrate through to the end. She told Jason not to interrupt her, that if he had any questions to please keep them until she was finished.

She began by recounting a few details of her life during her earlier years of high school that she had omitted at the Schmidts' dinner table. She had been a good student throughout her childhood, but as adolescence loomed, she faced the same pressures as other girls her age to find a boyfriend and dedicate her time to him.

There were several guys who attracted her, but at age 14 she settled on Vicente Torres, who was a friend of her older brother Raul. At the beginning Vicente seemed nice enough, but within a year the neighborhood's social pressures were closing in on his life. Raul was pressuring Vicente to join his gang. He worked on Cecilia as well, placing pressure on his sister to use her relationship with Vicente to help him control his friend. Cecilia found herself at odds with her brother, because she did not want Vicente in Raul's gang. If Vicente joined the gang, then she would be pressured to join the girlfriends' gang, which was absolutely the last thing she wanted to do. Raul stepped up the pressure on Cecilia over the year she was dating Vicente, but she held on to her hope that both she and her boyfriend could stay out of the gang.

Vicente finally gave into Raul's pressure. He started the initiation to join Raul's gang and began selling crack under Raul's direction. Cecilia knew that she had lost her fight for Vicente's soul when he began getting tattoos that matched the ones that Raul had. He was getting marked up, and if she stayed with him, she knew it was only a matter of time before she would have to start visiting the tattoo parlor herself.

She interrupted her story to remind Jason about her anger over the tattoo incident the month before. "Tattoos bring back a lot of bad memories for me, Jason. Now you'll know why I'm never gonna let you get a tattoo."

The problem for Cecilia was that she continued to do well in her studies and did not want to give up that part of her life. She also saw what was happening to some of the other girls her age, who already were beginning to fall into abusive relationships and quitting school. One by one her old friends were disappearing from her classes. Some were already using crack, and some were already pregnant, but none of them was leading a life that she found appealing. The more the others were leaving school, the more determined she was to stay.

During Cecilia's sophomore year, Vicente's character changed dramatically. He was becoming much more aggressive and more demanding about sex. The sexual part of the relationship, something she had enjoyed at the beginning, became more and more onerous as Vicente's sexual appetites changed. To her horror he began experimenting having sex with mixtures of Viagra, ecstasy, and cocaine. When the drugs did not give him the results he wanted he blamed her. Several times he slapped her over his frustration from his own sexual performance.

By the beginning of the second year of the relationship Vicente was regularly using cocaine as well as helping Raul sell it on the streets. Cecilia became afraid of his mood swings and the constant threat of being punched or slapped. She felt horribly trapped. As for the community, the rules were very clear; she did not have the right to complain. She was his property, and it was her duty to keep him happy.

Vicente became even more bossy and demanding as the weeks went by. Cecilia's life at home was becoming increasingly unpleasant. Her only escape was school. She spent more and more time at school, hanging out with teachers and studying in the library. To her school was the only place that made sense. The world on the outside didn't make any sense.

When Cecilia learned that Vicente had another girlfriend, she confronted him about it and ended up with a bloody nose. With that she had enough. I'm getting out of this, she thought to herself. I've had it with Vicente and Raul. They can take their drugs and their gang and all the rest of their shit and stick it up their asses.

Using Vicente's other girlfriend to justify what she was doing, she broke up with him. Vicente got violent and smashed several things in the Sanchez' apartment, which set off a fight between Cecilia's mother, her mother's boyfriend, her brother, and Vicente. The issue that set off the fight was the broken items in the apartment, not Cecilia. In the end it turned out to be very fortunate that Vicente did break all that stuff, because it precipitated a vicious fistfight between him and Raul . The fight gave Cecilia her chance to slip out of the relationship with Vicente without having to confront her brother.

When she went to school the next day, Cecilia enjoyed a real sensation of freedom. She had done it, she was free! No more Vicente, no more bloody noses, no more cocaine-induced sex demands, no more pressure to join the girls' gang! She was done with all that! She was free!

The euphoria only lasted a couple of days. Before long, Vicente was back at the apartment, having made up with Raul and also expecting to make up with Cecilia. She fought the urge to take him back, sticking to her disgust over the fact he had another girlfriend. Her resolve not to take him back became even stronger when she found out that the other girlfriend was pregnant with his child.

After a week of arguing it finally seemed Vicente was ready to give up, especially since Cecilia's mother still was furious about what had happened to her apartment and ordered Raul to keep him out. Again Cecilia breathed a huge sigh of relief, except there was one problem. She had missed her period. So, it turned out that she hadn't broken free after all. Now she was stuck with having Vicente's kid.

A month passed, and several pregnancy tests confirmed the news, Cecilia was pregnant. What on earth was she going to do? Vicente already had another kid on the way and his behavior was becoming more erratic than ever. She couldn't go back to him. What the fuck was she going to do?

During that first month of being pregnant she made a significant decision. She decided not to tell anyone about the pregnancy until she could figure out how to deal with it herself. Of course her family would expect her to have the baby, no matter what. But did she want the child? She was consumed with hatred towards Vicente for what he had done to her, and now her hatred was focused against his child, the one that she was carrying.

She went to Social Services for advice. The social worker pondered her options, none of which seemed particularly appealing. Finally, having exhausted all other possibilities, he made a suggestion, that she consider having an abortion. The thought went against everything that Cecilia's community believed and was a horrible solution, but it was the only choice that promised her the possibility of staying in school and returning to her prior life.

For several days Cecilia struggled with the issue, but her hatred of Vicente finally pushed her to go ahead with the visit to the clinic. She asked the social worker to help her make arrangements, which entailed a trip into New York City. The procedure itself was grueling, humiliating, and left her in tears, but as she laid back and felt the instruments press into her, she kept reminding herself that it was her revenge against her ex-boyfriend. I ain't havin' your fuckin' kid, Vicente. I just ain't.

Cecilia returned to school somewhat changed. She had made her deal with the devil, ending the life of the child she was carrying so she could have her freedom back. There were times she felt horribly guilty about what she had to do, but usually she was able to direct her guilt as blame against her ex-boyfriend. Had he treated her better, she would not have felt so driven to have the abortion.

She became coldly focused on her studies. The guys remaining in school chased after her because she was so attractive, but she rudely rebuffed them. She spent the next three years of her life completely alone, pursuing a single mission in life. At all costs, she had to get her diploma and get out of the neighborhood. For the next three years, her obsession was graduating. She just had to get away.

She looked upon the Salsa and Rap-induced machismo of her neighborhood with loathing. She made no effort to conceal her contempt of the messages being constantly blared out through the loudspeakers and stereos of her peers. She jeered at her classmates' sexist Rap lyrics and in doing so further alienated herself from the other girls still attending the school. Anyhow, that wasn't how she was going to live. She was determined that never again would she take orders from a boyfriend or submit to anything a guy wanted. Instead, she would have to find a partner who was willing to submit to her and obey her. Never again could she relinquish control of her life to someone else, no matter how much she loved that other person.

When Cecilia finished her story she stood quietly at the window. Jason wasn't sure what to say. He had grown up in a community where abortion was not looked upon as much more than a simple medical procedure, but he knew that in the community from which Cecilia came, abortion was viewed very differently. To her, admitting to having undergone an abortion was a horrible confession. She had made a desperate decision that completely cut her off from the core values of her church, her family and her community. In Cecilia's mind, to keep her freedom she had to commit murder.

He knew better than to try to argue with her or convince her that what she did was no big deal. To her it was a very big deal. There would be no convincing her otherwise. He did have a question.

"I'm kinda curious about one thing. If you had to do it all over again, the abortion I mean, would you?"

"Yes, Jason, I would've. I didn't have any choice, 'cause I didn't wanna be Vicente's bitch. That's what he kept callin' me, his bitch. I ain't nobody's bitch."

Cecilia had opened the window of her soul to Jason, not out of any sudden weakness or vulnerability, but because she wanted him to understand her needs and what being with her would truly mean for his own life. He would have to surrender himself, because she couldn't have it any other way. There was no question that he would indeed submit to her. At that moment, following their night of difficult confessions, he became committed to accepting the life she had created for him. He had no choice, because the trip home and his memories of Heather Jones made him realize that, without Cecilia, the only thing he could look forward to in his own life was failure. He did not have a strong personality and without a partner who could force him to focus his energies, he would drift. He had the intelligence to succeed, but lacked the drive in his character. Cecilia, with her sharp commands and her willingness to use the belt on him, filled that void in Jason's life.

He needed her every bit as much as she needed him. Not only did he need her help with his studies, but he also needed her discipline and her ability to help him focus. He needed the love she was offering, a love that demanded he make the most out of himself and overcome his weaknesses.

Jason also knew, in spite of her assertion "I'm gonna have to be in charge, and you're gonna have to live with that," there were some things in life he would be able to teach her. Swimming was one example. Over time there would have to be more swimming lessons, because she absolutely had to learn how to swim. Another way he had influenced her was her increasing openness about her body. He noticed she was wearing underwear less and had begun sleeping in the nude. His goal next summer would be to get her to go to a nude beach and break away from her remaining inhibitions. Over time he would have the chance to change her in other ways, although he would have to do it quietly and on the spur of the moment. Obviously he could never change her by attempting to give her any orders.

It was 3:00 in the morning, but neither Cecilia nor Jason was tired. Jason needed to go to the bathroom, so Cecilia escorted him out of he women's wing and waited for him to return to the commons area. When Jason returned, they briefly looked at the deepening snow outside through a bay window, and then went back to her room.

As soon as she shut her door, she ordered him to stand still so she could undress him. She went slowly, gently caressing his body as she took off each article of clothing. Finally his shorts fell to the floor and he stepped out of them. As usual, he was not wearing any underwear. He continued standing still while she lovingly caressed his bottom and gently patted it. He sighed with arousal and some anxiety, because by patting his bottom she was letting him know that he was due for a spanking.

That night there was no sensuous lovers' talk, nor was there any teasing about what a bad boy Jason was. She simply was in the mood to have him lie across her lap and spend the next hour studying, caressing, and spanking his lovely bottom. She kissed him, patted his bottom again, gave it a very light smack, and then quickly pulled off her own clothes. Jason understood he was to remain standing and not move until she gave him permission, but already he was fully erect.

Cecilia could not have picked a better night to spank Jason. He was in the mood to be spanked. He was in the mood to lie across Cecilia's lap, surrender himself to her, and endure the moderate pain and intense pleasure that he always felt when she punished him by hand.

She sat down on the bed and took his hand. She guided him over her lap and positioned him so that he was gracefully draped over her thighs. With her hand she gently pressed the insides of his legs to spread them slightly. She then instructed him to tilt his bottom up slightly so that he was spread and fully exposed. She gently brushed the backs of his testicles to tease him and then ran her finger up the middle, brushing past his bottom-hole. She tapped it with her fingertip and gave him a warning.

"I wanna see this until I'm finished with you. I want this sweat bottom of yours to stay relaxed. If you try to tighten up, I'm gonna have to get up and use the belt. I don't think you're gonna like that as much as my hand. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Cecilia."

He shifted up even more, inviting her to explore and study his backside before spanking it. She spent a very long time lovingly caressing and kissing that bare bottom, occasionally teasing his testicles or circling his bottom-hole with her fingertip. He loved it when she gently touched her lips to his bare skin, which soon would be pink and hot from the sharp slaps that were only minutes away. He was desperate with anticipation, loving every second of it.

She started gently at first, mixing soft slaps with caresses and kisses. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling of helplessness and the sharpening physical sensations coming from his bottom. She took her time, enjoying the pinkish tone on his skin as it slowly darkened under her hand. She wished she could have him like this for days on end, because she really did enjoy giving him nice long spankings.

SLAP! SLAP!  SLAP!  SLAP!  SLAP! After about 15 minutes, Cecilia's own excitement caught up with her. She began smacking him much harder and quit caressing his bottom. Her hours in the gym working out with Lisa were paying off, because now she had much more strength and endurance in her arms. She wanted Jason to feel the punishment, to give him a real spanking, not just a lover's playful pats.

Jason bit his lip and gasped. The pain was more intense than the last time she had given him a hand spanking, but it was just what he needed. To be over his lover lap, to be under her control, to have her belabor his unprotected skin with harsh slaps...yes, it was what he wanted. And yet, as the pain in his bottom increased, he also felt safe and protected. She was in control, she was his keeper and his mistress.

Cecilia watched the light shade of pink on Jason's bottom turn to a deep shade of pink. It was obvious that he was enjoying the experience. She too, was deeply aroused by the sight and feel of Jason's spanked backside, and by the sight of his bottom-hole that he dutifully kept turned up and visible. Yes, he was a good boy. She was training him well.

She felt his penis pressing into her thigh and the familiar burning sensation between her own legs. He was sweating with arousal. He had behaved well, and there was no need to lay any extra swats across his bottom with the belt. Now it was time for the reward, for both of them.

She stopped spanking, ordered him to stand up, tore open a condom package, and quickly slipped it on him. She then lay on her back and drew him to her. He entered her and started thrusting vigorously, the heat from his spanked bottom giving him that extra stimulation for a really special orgasm. Oh, this was good, it was really good. As he thrust into her, over and over, Cecilia gasped with pleasure, her body completely covered in sweat. She had her orgasm, but grunted "more... more... more". She dug her fingernails into her lover's swollen bottom; somehow knowing that would be enough to get another orgasm out of him. Again he pumped semen into the condom as he pushed in and out of her. The bed squeaked and tapped the wall as the two lovers burned out all their stress and energy in that exquisite round of love-making.

Finally, just as it was starting to get light outside, Cecilia and Jason did manage to get to sleep. It was a quiet, snowy Sunday morning, perfect for sleeping in. Cecilia cuddled in Jason's arms and fell asleep. He stayed awake just long enough to think about how happy he was at the moment. For the first time he felt at peace with himself, his life in order, thanks to the one woman on the planet who loved him and understood what he truly needed.

Jason's life returned to normal that Sunday afternoon, when he and Cecilia woke up and he had to return to his room. He got cleaned up, and then, without bothering to get dressed, returned to his studies. He knew that Ken was due back mid-afternoon and that Lisa and Mike would be back late in the evening. He decided to help Ken get ready for class the next day, but it was obvious that Lisa and Mike would have to make up their studies later in the week.

When Ken returned to Huntington Hall from his vacation, he decided to get cleaned up and head over to Jason's room. As had been normal for him since the beginning of the semester, he walked down the hallway to the bathroom naked, in silent protest against the university's inadequately small towels. From the bathroom he went straight to Jason's room, knowing that Jason probably would not be dressed either.

The two freshmen relaxed for a few minutes as they talked about Thanksgiving and gossiped about Mike and Lisa. Jason gave Ken a very censored version of what happened in Wisconsin, concentrating on the one pleasant part of the trip, the visit to his grandmother's condo. The conversation then drifted to the more urgent topic of what still needed to be done to get ready for finals. Ken went back to his room to pick up his notebooks, and returned still completely nude, not bothering to get dressed. For the next several hours the two freshmen sat on towels on the floor, going over the material covered in the final two weeks of classes.

For two college-age men, there was an unusual intimacy between Jason and Ken. They had been together constantly throughout the semester, ate together, studied together, worked out together, had gone streaking together, and had shared a lot about their lives with each other in general. They both enjoyed being naked and each was happy to have found a friend who also enjoyed being naked. Because of their closeness and casual attitude about not wearing clothing, they felt perfectly comfortable sitting together in the nude. However, from Jason's end at least, the relationship was completely platonic.

Ken's interest in Jason was mostly friendship, but it also included an element of sexuality. At a time in his life when he was struggling to determine what he wanted from his personal relationships, Ken found himself somewhat attracted to Jason. He enjoyed looking at Jason's body and loved being naked around him. He always looked forward to the life drawing classes when Jason was modeling and having the opportunity to render his body to paper. Had the issue come up, he gladly would have exchanged massages with his friend and tried to increase the level of physical contact between them.

Ken was not really sure what he saw in Jason. He was not even sure what exactly he would have wanted from his friend, even if Jason were gay and available. It was not exactly sex, nor romance: but rather intimacy. What was confusing for Ken was that, while he was vaguely attracted to Jason, he also was vaguely attracted to Lisa. Night after night he fantasized about those few minutes he lay naked over her lap, getting his bottom spanked while Mike and Jason watched. He totally loved that experience and was horribly jealous that Mike had Lisa in his life and he didn't.

Once they finished reviewing the study materials for Burnside's class the following day, the two freshmen returned to talking about their personal lives and about Cecilia in particular. Jason was in a pensive mood, and decided to share a bit more about his life with his friend. He provided an abbreviated summary of the car wreck and the effect it had on him during his final months in high school. He then talked about how important Cecilia had become in his life and emphasized that she was the reason he had enjoyed a successful semester.

As he continued thinking out loud in Ken's presence, Jason examined himself and why he had become so committed to submitting to Cecilia. He realized that when he was with Cecilia he felt safe. The more he submitted to her, the more protected he felt. He realized that before he met her, his soul had been full of fear: that he had been actually afraid of his own vacillating and self-destructive nature. Cecilia was important to him precisely because she refused to tolerate those weaknesses. Instead, she insisted that, whatever weaknesses he might have in his character, he was expected to overcome them.

Jason moved on to talking about his sex life with Cecilia. He realized how much he loved striving to please her sexually, because when he brought her to orgasm he was rewarding himself by making her happy. There was plenty of pleasure in the relationship for him as well, because when she granted him permission to enter her, she always sought to ensure he had excellent orgasms. The detail he enjoyed the most however, was going over her lap. When she was spanking him, she was completely in control of his emotions and his physical sensations. Jason loved receiving a good spanking, which Cecilia always inflicted with love, firmness, patience, and the desire to bring him to intense sexual pleasure through moderate, but sensuous, pain.

Jason knew that even the belt-whippings had an important role in his life. Unlike being spanked by hand, he hated the belt and was afraid of it. He also hated crying in front of Cecilia, but during a belt-whipping getting him to cry was an important part of the punishment. Still, even though he always hated receiving the belt at the moment, Jason understood the cruel whippings had helped him. He had entered the university consumed with guilt, partly because subconsciously he felt that he had not been properly punished for his stupidity from the previous year. With Cecilia there was no lingering guilt. If he did something wrong she punished him right away. The punishments always resolved any guilty feelings from a particular offense, because forgiveness and redemption were the ultimate goals of any whipping. Just as it was important to her that he was forced to cry during the whippings, it also was important that when the punishments were over, he understood she had forgiven him and still loved him. Unlike his parents, it never would occur to Cecilia to continue commenting on an offense that she considered resolved.

When Jason finished talking, Ken thought for a few minutes about how much his friend had changed that semester. He had a question for Jason.

"So, where do you think you're going with Cecilia? What do you think's gonna happen between you two?"

"I'm... I guess I'm just gonna have to do whatever she tells me. We talked about it last night, and she sorta laid out our situation... and that's... what we agreed on."

"And it doesn't scare you? I mean, just to do what she says?"

"No. It doesn't scare me at all. What scares me is what might have happened if I hadn't met her. That's what scares me."

Ken sighed, somewhat envious of his friend. His own character was a lot like Jason's, but unfortunately for him there was no Cecilia in his life to force him to focus his energies. He remained emotionally adrift, completely unsure of his own sexual identity, and scared of having to face the future without anyone to give him guidance. He was spending the semester in absolute confusion, fantasizing about two friends, both of whom were dating other people, and not really knowing what he wanted from either. He badly wished that he could find someone, male or female, to take control of his life and give him some direction.

Throughout the afternoon the snow continued to pile up outside. The university grounds crews desperately tried to clear the streets and the main campus in time for the deluge of students returning from Thanksgiving. After lunch, Cecilia's RA responsibilities intruded on her studies as she and the other RA's received calls from their supervisor ordering them to help shovel snow from the sidewalks surrounding Huntington Hall. The cold physical labor caused a lot of grumbling among the dorm staff, but it was the only way the building's manager could keep the sidewalks clear, given the fact the university maintenance crews were too busy clearing the streets and parking lots to worry about the dorm area. He ordered his employees to take snow shovels from a nearby shed and to spread out around the building. Cecilia's boss then picked up a snow shovel and started clearing a stretch of sidewalk alongside his staff, determined to set an example by letting them know he was not asking them to do something he wasn't willing to do himself.

Cecilia was surprised when she realized she did not mind shoveling snow. She was horribly stressed from her unpleasant weekend at the Schmidts' house, her upcoming final exams, the pending visit from the Danubian Prime Minister, and her other responsibilities to Ruth Burnside. She took out her aggression on the sidewalk; clearing her own area quickly enough to later help one of the other RA's who was moving more slowly. She worked herself up into a real sweat as she thought to herself, well, at least I'm saved the hassle of having to go to the gym today.

Once the snow shoveling was completed the dorm staff went back inside for a meeting and instructions for getting the residents through the final three weeks of classes. After a brief break, Cecilia and the other RA's had to meet with their residents for floor meetings. Jason and Ken were present, sitting together. Mike and Lisa were absent, presumably delayed getting back from California.

Cecilia exhorted her residents to study for finals, although she could tell by the expressions of several residents that they already had given up on passing their classes that semester. Giving up... no that wouldn't do. She wrote down the names of students she felt might be in trouble. After the meeting she planned to talk to them, hoping to see which ones still had a chance of salvaging their semesters if properly motivated.

That night Cecilia became the perfect picture of authoritarian bossiness, as she strutted around the hallway confronting her residents about their studies. She spent the next three hours talking to several residents and put them in touch with available tutors. When Lisa and Mike finally came in following a grueling flight from San Francisco, Cecilia immediately confronted Lisa to order her and Mike to report to Jason to receive information from the floor meeting they had missed and an update on Burnside's class.

Jason and his friends ended up being drafted into their RA's efforts to salvage several students' semesters, as she ordered them to make themselves available to answer classmates' questions and go over coursework. Cecilia knew that in helping others, Jason and his friends were helping themselves by learning how to explain coursework in a clear, concise manner. Not only had Jason's group learned the material by heart, but also, over the next several nights they would have to learn how to explain it to others. By the end of the semester they would be more than ready to provide coherent, well-written answers in their final exams.

After a very busy night, Cecilia escorted Jason to her room to receive her usual massage and round of oral sex from her boyfriend. She was exhausted from stress, shoveling snow, helping panicked residents, and finally from the orgasm she enjoyed as Jason's tongue explored her clitoris. He massaged her a second time as she fell into a very deep sleep. Jason was relieved. His life with his mistress had returned to normal.

The following week was a hectic one for Jason and Cecilia. Jason received a second invitation to speak about the Tri-Alpha race to a Chicago clothing optional resort for the following Saturday. The sponsors of the event also hoped to invite Lisa and perhaps allow the organization's members a photo op session. To Jason's surprise, Lisa agreed, and Mike agreed to drive both of them to the event.

Later in the week there was a problem, the nudist group's photographer got sick and there was no replacement. It seemed the photo session would have to be canceled, until Jason remembered Cecilia's friend, Suzanne Foster. He decided to see if she might be available to take pictures. Cecilia passed the request along to Suzanne, who agreed to participate. Ken, upon finding out about Jason's expedition, asked if he could go as well. In the end, what started out as a simple speech turned into a full-day event for Jason and four classmates.

Jason's speech was part of an all-day symposium on nudism and physical fitness. The day would start with features about the origins of nudism in the 1920's and its beginnings as a fitness movement. The event sponsors wanted to emphasize that tradition and bring exercise and over-all fitness back into the nudist lifestyle, to counter the stereotype of a bunch of overweight old people sitting around trailers and swimming pools. Jason was asked not only to give a speech about the Tri-Alpha race, but talk about running in general and lead a panel discussion of exercise and what the resort could do to encourage physical fitness among its members. In exchange for his efforts, he would be rewarded with a year membership and a pass to bring a guest.

Jason had wondered how Cecilia was going to handle being at a large full day event at a clothing optional facility during which the speakers and most of the audience would be nude. That issue, however, never came up. Cecilia got a phone call from Ruth Burnside Friday night instructing her to report to the Economics Department first thing the next morning. Burnside wanted to give Cecilia some final instructions concerning the Danubian visit and have her attend a meeting with the other members of the Economic Department's student delegation. Cecilia was both disappointed and relieved. She was disappointed at not having the opportunity to see Jason speak in public, but relieved that she didn't have to face the issue of whether or not to take off her clothes in front of Jason's friends and a bunch of other people at the resort.

After Mike drove the group to the resort and they checked in, the students went into a coed locker room and undressed. To everyone's surprise Suzanne undressed along with the others. She seemed to have such a quiet, conservative demeanor that it was hard to picture her comfortable being nude in public. However, once she had her clothes off she seemed at ease, her pale voluptuous body reminding her companions of a Greek goddess statue or a Victorian painting. The photographer loaded herself with her camera equipment, looking strange as she walked down the hallway with several camera bags slung over her bare figure.

Jason was busy the entire day, jumping from one event to another and barely having time to prepare his presentation. Suzanne, as usual, spent her time setting up her photography supplies and checking lighting. Lisa only had the photo op session to worry about, while Mike and Ken had nothing at all to concern them. They needed to attend Jason's speech and the symposium he was moderating, but apart from that they could relax. The three freshmen spent some time in the pool and the sauna while Jason talked to the event's organizers and finalized his presentation about the race.

When Jason spoke, his friends were impressed with his ability to express himself with confidence in front of an audience. He was a dynamic and entertaining speaker, capable of using just the right amount of humor and antidotes to amuse the audience and draw their attention. It seemed that he was a totally different person when standing at the microphone. The nervous 18-year-old the others knew from their daily lives was completely absent from the person standing up on stage.

Following Jason's speech there was a presentation by a representative of the Tri-Alphas to discuss the fraternity's attitude about nudity and the history of the race Jason had won. There was a banquet dinner and finally the photography session, which actually was a fund-raiser for a member of the resort who had to pay for a cancer operation. As they posed in the nude with one resort member after another, Jason and Lisa experienced an odd feeling of nostalgia as Suzanne's flash continuously went off in their faces for the next couple of hours.

After the photo session ended, Mike and Jason were hoping to head back to the university before it got too late. However, Suzanne was talking to several resort members who wanted a photographer for an upcoming wedding, and Ken was talking to the Tri-Alpha representative.

It seemed no one was going anywhere for a while, so finally Jason approached the director of the resort to see about getting a couple of rooms to stay overnight. He called Cecilia to ask her permission to stay at the resort until the next day. She thought about it, not happy that her boyfriend would not be returning to the university that night. However, he needed to stay because of Suzanne and Ken, not because of himself. In the end she gave him the permission to make the room reservations, pleased that he was smart enough to check in with her before making the decision to stay at the resort.

Ken's talk with the Tri-Alpha representative went very well. He realized that the fraternity's spirit of adventure, sexual openness, and experimentation might be just what he needed. Perhaps joining the Tri-Alphas would help him figure out what he wanted in life. As he learned more about the fraternity he realized he probably would enjoy being a pledge. The prospect of being naked in public for an entire semester, submitting to sexual servitude to both men and women, and being constantly spanked and paddled appealed to him. He liked the Tri-Alphas' emphasis on discipline and their focus on academic success. It seemed the fraternity gave its members a very strong sense of identity and direction, something in his life he felt was lacking. Yes, that was indeed what he wanted to do, to pledge with the Tri-Alphas.

The Tri-Alpha representative added a detail that made joining even more appealing to Ken. He related that each year there were a few pledges that joined during the summer, in a sort of pre-pledge program. The vast majority of members pledged in the fall. However, there was an advantage of being a summer pledge, because at the end of the August the fraternity normally selected and trained a "pledge leader" to handle the group of incoming freshmen pledging the following September. Being a pledge leader had several advantages and disadvantages. In some ways being a pledge leader amounted to pledging twice, because the pledge leader was expected to complete a full summer as a pledge, and then submit again as a pledge along with the new freshmen. The pledge leader had to spend a second semester living in the nude alongside the new pledges. He also was subject to the same sexual servitude and punishments from upper classmen and sorority members that an ordinary pledge had to endure. However, the pledge leader was the undisputed ruler of the other pledges. His role was to guide the others through their various ordeals and challenges, which included the fall 10-K run. His duties included training new members to open themselves to new physical experiences, ranging from yoga and massage to various sexual practices and techniques for sexual stimulation. Another role of the pledge leader was to make sure any contact between the upperclassmen and the other pledges adhered to the fraternity's rules. If someone crossed the line he had the authority to report any violations directly to the Tri-Alpha National Directorate. The pledge leader had the discretion to punish the other pledges as he pleased, within the general fraternity guidelines for pledge discipline.

The Tri-Alpha representative brought up the detail about the fall pledge leader position because he sensed right away that Ken might be a good candidate for the job. It definitely seemed he had what it took to be an enthusiastic Tri-Alpha member. Assuming he worked out as a pledge, there was a very good chance the fraternity had found its pledge leader for the fall. By the time the evening was over, Ken had set up an appointment to visit the Tri-Alpha Fraternity for preliminary interviews and to fill out paperwork needed to join. If everything went according to plan, he would begin his arduous journey to becoming a Tri-Alpha at the beginning of June.

While Jason and his friends were spending a pleasant day at the nudist resort, Cecilia was spending a stressful day at the Economics Department with Ruth Burnside snapping at her. The university's Danubian guests were due to arrive in Chicago that following Monday. At the last minute the president of the university and Burnside's think-tank associates decided to move all reception ceremonies from the airport to the university, where the guests could be received in a more controlled setting. The change of venue shifted the pressure to the university to handle the visit, which in turn forced Burnside and the other hosts to frantically call their assistants. The rush had started, and would not end until the following weekend when the Danubians were scheduled to fly to Washington and then back to Europe. Fortunately, Cecilia was not alone in the scramble to get ready for the visit. Cynthia Lee from the Political Science Department was present, along with several other graduate students.

The University Memorial Center's reception area was cordoned off as caterers began setting up for the upcoming formal dinners and conference refreshments. Burnside, her lover Jim Halsey, and several other leading economists from the Chicago area set up in the conference areas, as their administrative assistants and student aides prepared copies of presentations and conference packets for distribution. The Prime Minister was planning to give two public speeches and a press conference, which required the preparation of the university ballroom. There was a horrible scare when the two flags sent by the Danubian Embassy went missing, a crisis which sent several graduate students scrambling around the university to find them. Finally Cynthia Lee remembered seeing them in a box at the Music School, and made herself the hero of the moment by triumphantly returning to the Economics Department with the folded flags in her hands.

That Sunday night Cecilia and Jason finally had a few hours to themselves. Shortly she would have to return to Burnside's office, and he would get ready for his Monday classes. She escorted him back to her room. As soon as the door was shut he dutifully took off his clothes and hung them up. Then he turned to see her quietly standing, with her eyes quietly giving him his next command. Still, he had to be sure:

"Do you want me to undress you, Cecilia?"


She closed her eyes as she felt the articles of clothing slip off her body one by one. It felt so good to get all that stuff off. Yes, Jason was right. The human body really was not designed to be enclosed in clothing. It was so much better to feel the cool air of the room against her bare skin... She issued her next order: "Please pull down my bedspread and blanket. Then you can get the massage oil out of the drawer. I've been sittin' all day, so I'd appreciate some extra work on my upper shoulders and butt."

"Yes Cecilia. I'll try to get you relaxed."

Normally he started massaging her feet and working up to her neck, but that night he decided to massage her bottom and shoulders first, then give her a full normal massage, and then return to her bottom and shoulders. He could tell as he began on her lower neck that she really was tensed up, and that night he would have to put some time and effort into getting her relaxed. He moved to her bottom and massaged it thoroughly, then gently kissed both bottom-cheeks with a series of sensuous kisses. Cecilia liked having her bottom kissed, especially as part of a massage.

Jason then moved to massaging her feet, working each toe individually before moving on to the soles and heels. He slowly used several techniques on the muscles of her calves and thighs, waiting until her legs seemed relaxed before returning to her bottom. Cecilia's lovely dark bottom received yet another complete deep-tissue massage before Jason worked on her lower and upper back. Once again he massaged her upper shoulders and neck. His hands were getting tired from his efforts, but it seemed her muscles finally were relaxed.

He helped her roll over on her back. He was about to start massaging her feet from the front and work up fronts of her legs, but she lifted up her arm and pointed at her vagina. That was her sign to her lover that she wanted an orgasm before he continued massaging her. He dutifully moved his head between her legs and began kissing her inner thighs and labia. He realized how much she was stressed, because she was not yet wet and seemed far from having an orgasm. Not that it mattered. He would continue kissing, teasing, and licking her most intimate regions until either she climaxed or she directed him to stop. He changed tactics several times and began lightly massaging her with his fingertips. That seemed to work. She moaned faintly and finally some wetness appeared. He returned to teasing her clitoris with his tongue. Finally she tensed up and her body shook slightly as she came close to climaxing. He continued, licking her entire vagina and occasionally returning to her clitoris. His mouth was sore and his tongue stiff from his efforts, but only one thought was on his mind, ensuring she had a proper orgasm to help relieve her stress. Once she climaxed, he would return to massaging her. Finally his patience paid off, as he teased her clitoris with the tip of his tongue, she climaxed, gasping and filling his nose with the scent of her arousal.

By the time he finished, Jason's mouth was painfully stiff from the prolonged effort to arouse his mistress, but he experienced a deep feeling of fulfillment. Even though it had been a struggle, once again he had succeeded in performing his duty to her. They both knew that his purpose in life was to make her happy. Tonight, she was very happy and very satisfied, proud of her beloved Jason. She reached up and drew him to her, her eyes full of pleasure and gratitude. She reached for his penis, gently massaging it to let him know that tonight she would reward him by granting him permission to enter her. He went stiff immediately and she gently slipped a condom on him. When he entered her she climaxed again as the stress from both their lives melted away for a few exquisite moments in her modest dorm room.

When they finished, they relaxed for a bit. They were tired, but both were in the mood to talk. Jason summarized his trip to the nudist resort, discussing his speech and the panel discussion, Suzanne's photography, and Ken's sudden decision to pledge with the Tri-Alphas. Cecilia agreed that pledging with the Tri-Alphas probably was a smart decision on Ken's part, given that it was obvious he currently had no direction in his life. However, secretly she was relieved he was pledging for a much more personal reason. Throughout the semester she had worried about Ken's possible influence on Jason, especially after the tattoo parlor incident. Now it seemed that the problem of Ken was about to be resolved on its own, without her having to take any action. If he pledged with the fraternity, all of his free time would be taken up with his duties to the Tri-Alpha upperclassmen and their sorority girlfriends, leaving him no time to socialize with Jason. Ken's absence would open up a gap in Jason's life that she could fill with her own demands, and thus allow her to continue tightening her control over him after the Spring semester.