The Outsider
by EC

Part 7

(warnings: language, adult themes, social commentary, public nudity, spanking, sex between adults)

Chapter 20 - January in Davenport

Mike and Ruthie left early the following morning to return to the university. Mike was very relieved to be headed back to Davenport, because the atmosphere at home totally depressed him. More importantly, the on-going conversations between his girlfriend and his father had made him extremely nervous. He was creeped-out by the relationship that had developed between those two, and by the fact that Ruthie totally loved a lot of his father’s favorite music. She rolled her eyes at most of the Heavy Metal Mike liked to listen to, and yet was totally enthralled by that dead ‘70’s stuff of Mr. Sinclair.

The trip was very tense, because Ruthie was extremely moody, sullen, and quiet. Her emotions were in turmoil over her father’s efforts to make up to her through giving her money, her mother losing it and kicking her out of their apartment, and her wistful conversations with her boyfriend’s dad. She fidgeted in the car and nervously looked down, because she was unable to articulate everything that was going on in her mind.

Now that she was out of Mike’s house and away from his family, Ruthie had time to think about her own situation and the fight with her mother. She felt both guilty and resentful over what had happened. She had not meant to hit her mother, but at the same time she felt that Doña Lisette had it coming for striking her across the face. She knew that her mother would never see it that way. The church was very adamant; the duties of good parents included physical discipline when necessary. According to that line of thinking, Doña Lisette simply was acting within her obligation as a mother and in Ruthie’s interests when she slapped her for swearing.

Ruthie still was devastated by her mother’s order to get out of her apartment, but deep down she knew that within a few days Doña Lisette would call her up, expect her to apologize, and the incident would pass. She knew it would be that way, because twice before the same thing had happened. Ruthie simply went over to her cousins’ place to wait until her mother’s temper calmed down. When she apologized, she was told to return home. She deeply resented having to apologize for something that she felt was not her fault. However, just like the business of pretending she still was a Christian, Ruthie was accustomed to making false apologies to get along with her mother. Anyhow, she had no choice. When classes were not in session, Ruthie still needed a place to stay and her mother’s apartment was the only option she had.

In spite of the hurt she felt at the moment, Ruthie tried to look at her mother in a fair manner. Doña Lisette was indeed a difficult person to deal with, but in her own way she did love her daughter and tried to be as supportive as possible within the limitations of her sparse education, unpleasant life experiences, religious brainwashing, and economic difficulties. Even the topic of the latest fight was a reminder that Doña Lisette had given Ruthie more freedom than her uncle had given to her cousin Rosa. Ruthie’s mother did not object when she left home to go to college. Ruthie did not have to run away to pursue her ambitions, while Rosa did.

Ruthie knew that her uncle also was furious at her, but as far as he was concerned, that was just too bad. Unlike her mother, she felt no obligation to apologize to her uncle. In reality she did not need him anymore, because the two cousins she had been close to, Gerardo and Rosa, no longer were living in his house. Gerardo was tied up with his wife and new baby, and Rosa was gone, probably for good. Meanwhile, the two younger cousins had turned into obnoxious delinquents. Her uncle and what remained of his household could go to Hell.

Mostly to break his girlfriend’s silence, Mike suggested having breakfast in Santa Cruz. Upon leaving the restaurant, they spent a very long time browsing through the used music stores in search of the titles Ruthie wanted. He obligingly bought her several CD’s, including a greatest hits collection from Kansas. In a slight act of rebellion he insisted on playing one of his Queensryche CD’s on the final stretch of the journey northward. If Ruthie wanted to listen to his father’s music, she’d have to do it on her own time.

* * *

Mike and Ruthie returned to his dorm and set up to live as a couple for the next week and a half. She had everything she needed to make herself at home in Mike’s room. The best part of the arrangement, as far as she was concerned, was that Mike was at his job in training from 7:30 until 5:00. That meant that he left at 7:00 and was not back until 5:30. There was no one else on the floor, so Ruthie had not only the room, but the entire floor to herself.

During the week before the staff arrived, Ruthie did what she most enjoyed doing, wandering around the building completely naked. She loved to walk up and down the hallways stretching her legs and go into places she normally would be prohibited from entering, such as the offices, the supply rooms, and the men’s bathrooms. There was a room with some old gym equipment, so Ruthie did not need to go outside or get dressed to exercise. About mid-day she got on one of the treadmills and measured three miles walking and half-heartedly jogging. She finished up with a few arm exercises on another machine… nothing overly strenuous, just enough to wear off stress. She wished that she had access to the university pool, but the Rec Center was closed during vacation and anyhow, she would have been required to wear a swimsuit.

Ruthie was happy to not have to deal with Mike during the days, but she tried to have everything set up to make his life as pleasant as possible when he came back in the evenings. As soon as he left the room, she straightened it and cleaned whatever clothing was dirty from the day before. The dorm had a kitchenette, so every afternoon Ruthie cooked dinner. Instead of eating in his room, they ate in one of the study rooms where they could sit properly at a table. He undressed before eating, and after their nude meal the two students showered together. He was grateful for the dinners and happy to think that he was getting a glimpse of his future domestic life with his girlfriend. To be able to enjoy a week of “normal” living with Ruthie made Mike love her even more. He became convinced that eventually he would want to propose to her.

When she was not wandering the hallways or exercising or cooking, Ruthie relaxed. For hours she lay on her bed in Mike’s room masturbating and listening to her new collection of ‘70s music. She especially liked the songs that had long instrumental parts, because her imagination could wander into other realities. Her mind drifted through the earth’s past: sometimes she was standing on a cliff watching pterodactyls soaring over the inland sea, and sometimes she was wandering along the Devonian shoreline picking up trilobites from the shallow waters. Sometimes she imagined herself as a naked Phoenician dancing girl, her body standing out in front of the flames of a Temple fire as the entire city admired her. Other times she pictured herself as a servant girl in ancient Egypt, with nothing covering her body except a collar and a thin belt around her waist, kneeling and waiting on a Divine queen. Other times she imagined herself as a naked Druid priestess, her bare body shivering in the cold fog of prehistoric England.

By the end of the week she had spent so much time in the nude that she had ceased to notice it. From Tuesday to Thursday she never left the building, which meant during that entire time not once did she have to put anything on. It was delicious to be able to live like that, but by the end of the third day being nude felt totally normal. It was lucky that the weather outside was overcast and cold, or she would have been very tempted to go out undressed and wander naked around the deserted university. Even so, if she was reasonably sure that no grounds-keepers were outside, every so often she succumbed to temptation and did a quick streak around the dorm. She returned after just a couple of minutes of running around Mike’s building, winded and covered with goose-bumps.

* * *

Ruthie’s mother called three days after she returned to Davenport. She was crying, but did not say anything other than asking if Ruthie had safely returned to the university. Ruthie wanted to say: “well… I’m here, aren’t I?” Instead she knew that it was up to her to bring up the topic of the fight and punching her mother’s arm. Ruthie took a deep breath and apologized for the punch, saying that she did not know what got into her. Her mother responded:

“Ruthie, you do know what got into to you. You let the Devil speak to you.”

Ruthie tensed up, but responded: “…yes Mom… I’ve been praying for Jesus to forgive me… and… I… I’m asking you to forgive me too.”

“You know it’s gonna be hard for me… because of what you did to me…”

“I’m sorry Mom… I don’t know what else to say. I was wrong for hitting you.”

The conversation continued along those lines for a few minutes, as Doña Lisette tried to make Ruthie feel as guilty as possible over what had happened the prior week. Ruthie shook from anger and frustration, but she managed to play along until her mother “reluctantly” accepted her apology. Finally Doña Lisette hung up, satisfied that her daughter fully understood the terrible thing she had done.

Ruthie sat quiet on Mike’s bed for several minutes, trembling with impotence and rage. She stood up and with all her strength threw her cell phone against the wall. The case broke and the battery fell out. For several minutes she stared at the device as it lay on the floor. Finally she picked it up what remained. She noted that not only was the back cover broken off, but also the screen was cracked.

Great… just what I needed… to have to buy a new cell phone…

* * *

While Ruthie was relaxing in the empty dorm, Sam spent the week teaching Mike the remaining details of the duties that the student needed to know to be his alternate. They were able to concentrate on the technical parts of the job because meter collections had dropped to almost nothing. There were a few meters near the alumni center and the admissions office that still were being paid, but otherwise the parking lots were totally empty. Sam showed Mike how to fill in logbooks and place orders for supplies and how to account for money paid out to contractors for repairs and replacement meters. It was a lot to remember, because Sam was showing Mike how to do all parts of his job, not just collecting meter money. Most of it was tedious, but Mike knew that it certainly would look good on a résumé.

As Mike gained his trust, Sam showed him some additional details about the university. For example, he showed his protégé the locations of all of the campus security cameras. Some of the cameras were turned on and some of them had been put up for show and were not even connected. Sam told Mike which cameras were which and how to tell if a security camera had been activated. It was rather strange information, but Sam pointed out that he knew of several incidences of students getting assaulted right in front of cameras that were not turned on. He pointed out a couple of places the campus police officers liked to hide out and rest, when they were supposed to be patrolling. He added with a sarcastic smile:

“If you’re thinking of doing anything naughty with your girl, now you know where to go and where to avoid.”

Once again, Sam had made a comment that left Mike wondering what, if anything, he was hinting at.

* * *

During the week they had the dorm to themselves, Ruthie and Mike had sex every night. However, what they did together was changing now that massage had been added to their foreplay. Ruthie normally massaged Mike prior to sex. Because she wanted to shorten the intercourse portion of their sexual contact as much as possible, she got him aroused and hard before she let him get on top of her. He thrust vigorously, but then climaxed quickly. When he was done Ruthie breathed a sigh of relief. Then it was Mike’s turn to massage Ruthie. While massaging aroused Mike, being touched put Ruthie to sleep. It was comforting to fall asleep under the touches of the man who loved her. Mike did not complain, because he enjoyed looking at and touching her naked body, especially her bottom and thighs.

Mike still did not grasp that Ruthie did not enjoy having him inside her; that she viewed allowing him to enter her as a chore she had to fulfill as her duty to the relationship. Ruthie continued to be angry at herself that she did not enjoy sex with Mike, but she had accepted her situation and continued to keep it secret from her boyfriend.

* * *

The Housing Department staff returned from vacation the second Saturday after New Year’s Day. The directors set up in their offices and the RA’s took up residence in their rooms. The cleaning staff was back at work, preparing the buildings for the influx of students who would be showing up a few days later. The return of the housing staff meant Ruthie’s temporary refuge suddenly shrank to Mike’s room. With other people running around the hallways, the freedom of running around in the nude that she had enjoyed for five days quickly ended. Starting on Saturday, she sullenly put on her clothes every time she left the room, totally resenting the imposition society was placing on her.

The following Monday Ruthie returned to her own dorm to see what her living arrangements were going to be for the spring semester. She was desperately hoping that she could keep the room that she currently had to herself, but of course that was not to be. The receptionist told her that she would remain on the fifth floor, but that she would have to move to another room that she would share with a senior called Jen Gordon.

Ruthie cringed at the thought of losing her privacy, but if Jen was a senior, hopefully she would be more serious and more compatible than Shannon. The fact that Jen was living on a floor of graduate students was a sign that, even if she was not compatible, at least she would be quiet.

The receptionist gave Ruthie a key to her new room and told her to have her stuff moved within 24 hours. Sighing with frustration, Ruthie went upstairs, sadly looked at the room that had been her private space for a short time, and piled her stuff on a push-cart. When she entered the other room, it was clear that Jen had been there since the previous semester. Her side of the room was neatly organized. She had a lot of books and numerous photos of herself with classmates and relatives on her desk. There were posters and pictures on her section of the wall of some of the most beautiful landscapes Ruthie had ever seen. Several of the posters had “New Zealand” written on them. Ruthie picked up some envelopes from her roommate’s desk. A couple of the envelopes had New Zealand stamps and return addresses.

That’s another positive sign, thought Ruthie. It looks like Jen’s not from the US. Maybe this won’t be so bad after-all.

Jen showed up three days later, struggling with a couple of suitcases. She introduced herself and mentioned that had flown in from Vancouver, Canada, where she had spent Christmas with some friends. She was a bit taller than Ruthie, with reddish-brown hair and blue eyes.

From the beginning Ruthie could tell that she had much more in common with her new roommate than she had with Shannon. She was dressed in jeans and an old baggy sweater, so it was apparent fashion was not a concern in her life. Under her baggy clothing Ruthie could tell that Jen’s figure was more filled out than her own; more European-looking and more voluptuous. Like Ruthie, Jen wore no make-up. Later Ruthie would find out that Jen was 25, and that she had taken several years off to work before entering the university in Auckland.

Jen was spending a year in California on a university exchange program. She spoke with what seemed to Ruthie a strange accent that was sort of, but not quite, British. She did not seem very friendly, but in a way that was totally different from the way Shannon had been. Jen’s personality was quiet and stand-offish instead of abrasive and belligerent. She was the sort of person that took a long time to warm up to a stranger, but if one gave her time and space, eventually she would open up and become more social. Later she would confess to Ruthie one of the many things that totally irritated her about the US was the habit of people being friendly on the surface without taking a real interest in her. A pet peeve of hers was the American habit of saying “hello” by asking “how’s everything going?” As she put it:

“I don’t want you to ask me how my bloody day is going, unless you really need to know.”

One detail was very clear from the start: like Ruthie, Jen did not like noise. The two roommates discussed their feelings about noise and discovered they were in perfect agreement about having a quiet room. It turned out that Jen had the same problem with a noisy roommate the previous semester that Ruthie had. The only difference was she was a lot more forceful about objecting to her roommate’s noise than Ruthie had been with Shannon, so Jen had open fights with her roommate from the very beginning of the previous semester.

Jen admitted that she was worried about having Ruthie as her new roommate because she was a freshman, but the dorm director had told her that Ruthie was a scholarship student and “nerdy enough for you, I’m sure.” Ruthie did not appreciate what the dorm director had said about her, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.

After Jen had unpacked, Ruthie found out there was a specific reason her roommate wanted the room quiet. She laid out some art supplies on her desk and set to work on an illustration she had worked on over Christmas. It was clear she wanted to concentrate on the drawing and that she did not want any interruptions. Ruthie could feel an invisible wall of silence surrounding Jen as she was drawing. She said nothing more.

Well, at least if nothing else, Ruthie would be able to study in peace in her own room. She decided that she would gradually continue moving her stuff out of Mike’s dorm, which eventually would include her computer.

* * *

The semester began the day after Jen showed up. Ruthie decided to cut back her hours at the coffee shop and take a full load of classes, because she was concerned that semester could very well be her last at Davenport State University. She still left every morning at 4:30 to open at 5:00, but requested that her shift end at 10:00 instead of 11:00 so she could make it to a morning class. Her manager was not at all happy about her request, but Ruthie knew he was stuck with her because no one else would be willing to open.

Mike accompanied her to the bookstore and helped her carry heavy sacks bulging with overpriced books to his room, where she sorted and organized them by class. For the first three nights of the semester she stayed overnight with Mike. He was elated, hoping that she no longer was interested in using her own room and was planning to live with him. However, she had not made up her mind about what to do living with her older, distant roommate. Finally, on the third day after classes started, she told Mike that she apologized for the imposition that she had placed on him and that she would once again start sleeping in her own room. She could tell that he was hugely disappointed. However, the direction of their relationship was making her increasingly nervous because she still had not worked out what exactly she felt for him or what were her expectations for their future.

Ruthie returned to the fifth floor of her dorm with a backpack full of books and notebooks. The room was so quiet that she thought Jen must be out. However, when she opened the door, her new roommate was working on one of her drawings. She was totally absorbed in her work and did not look up. However, she acknowledged Ruthie’s entrance by waving a brush and then returned to her work.

In spite of Jen’s minimal greeting, Ruthie was both shocked and heartened by the fact that her roommate was wearing nothing but a black t-shirt. From the waist down she was completely naked. She made no effort to cover up, nor did she offer Ruthie any explanation about her state of undress. She simply continued working on her drawing.

Ruthie wasn’t sure what to do. She had been careful not to be naked around Shannon, but it was apparent that Jen wouldn’t mind given that she was sitting at her desk bottomless.

Ruthie decided to test her new roommate. Her heart was pounding as she took off her clothes and wrapped a towel around herself to take a shower. She spent several long minutes in the bathroom getting cleaned up and brushing her teeth, and nerving herself to return to her room and see how Jen would react if she remained naked while she was studying. Finally she did go back. She hung up her towel, spread her books on her bed, and pretended to study. Jen seemed not to take notice of her and continued working on her art project.

After a few minutes Ruthie’s nervousness wore off and she was actually able to concentrate. Jen finally finished her project for the night and put away her art supplies. She stood up and rummaged through her closet while Ruthie admired her voluptuous bottom… white and full and well-rounded, and her sexy thighs. Jen casually stripped off her shirt and wrapped a towel around herself. She left the room for a few minutes to get cleaned up. Ruthie remained naked on her bed, waiting to see what would happen when her roommate returned. When Jen came back in, Ruthie’s heart pounded again. Jen cast a casual glance in her direction and commented:

“I see that you don’t fancy wearing knickers either?”

Ruthie looked up and shook her head. “Not really… you don’t mind me studying like this?”

“No, of course not. Why should I mind?”

Jen said nothing more. She put on a clean t-shirt but remained completely uncovered from the waist down. For several minutes she wandered about her side of the room getting ready for an early class the next day. Ruthie watched her, once again admiring her large white bottom and feeling the urge to run her hands over its soft smooth skin. Jen seemed not to notice. She turned out her light and got in bed.

Ruthie stood up to put her books away. She suspected that Jen would say something if she left her side of the room disorganized, and the last thing she wanted was to offend a roommate with whom she had so much in common. So… it seemed that for once Ruthie had lucked out; that around Jen she could do what she most enjoyed doing.

She turned out her light. For several minutes she lay naked on top of her bed, enjoying the thought that she could be undressed around someone other than Mike. She glanced over at Jen, vaguely wishing that she had not pulled the covers over herself. Finally, she pulled the sheet over her own body and went to sleep.

The two women settled into their nightly routine within their first week together. Jen was never very talkative, but Ruthie figured out that was just her roommate’s personality and nothing specifically directed against her. Anyhow, Jen’s detached behavior was her only bad point. In everything else it turned out the two women were totally compatible. They both needed silence in the room to work on their respective assignments, they were asleep well before midnight, and neither was a partier. Like Ruthie, Jen had a boyfriend, but she never invited him into the room.

Jen had a nightly ritual that would have seemed strange to most people, but Ruthie found it very appealing. The room they shared overlooked the edge of campus and had an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. Just before she went to sleep, Jen liked to open the window and spend some time "unwinding" before going to bed, by quietly looking at the night sky and reflecting on life. During her "unwinding" time, she was perfectly quiet and asked Ruthie to be quiet during those moments as well. She put her hands on the window sill and just stood silent.

Within a couple of days of moving in, Ruthie joined Jen during the minutes of "unwinding". While Jen leaned out the window, Ruthie quietly sat on the bed right behind her. It became a nightly ritual that the two women enjoyed... the cool air coming in the window... the silence of the room... and the Pacific that stretched beyond the horizon. It was time that they shared and yet time each spent alone... each student wrapped up in her own thoughts and reflections.

During her “unwinding” Jen usually was bottomless, wearing just a t-shirt without any “knickers”, as she put it. Ruthie always was completely naked. She loved the feeling of the cool air coming in through the window and caressing her bare body. She also enjoyed looking at Jen, studying her bare bottom and legs in the darkness. Her roommate’s smooth round backside was so much more attractive than Mike’s thin flat butt…

* * *

Mike’s training with Sam was suspended for the first two weeks of the semester. The supervisor instead ordered him to train two new students as ticket officers. If those two students were expecting a relaxed training, they were sadly mistaken. Mike was hard-core and saw to it that his trainees ticketed the meters instead of wandering the university looking for more interesting hits such as fire-lane violations. Mike’s insistence that the new employees stay put instead of drifting around made them nervous, because they knew that the students abusing the meter spaces would return before their shifts ended and undoubtedly be abusive upon seeing the tickets. Mike made it clear that he cared less about what the violators thought of him, and by extension, what they thought of anyone he was training.

By the end of the spring semester’s second week Mike and his two trainees had cleared the freeloaders from lot Econ-A. Most of the meters were being used by people who were paying them and Mike had the lot under control. With that he released the two trainees, who immediately fled to central campus to spend their shifts wandering around doing nothing.

When Mike’s self-appointed task of clearing the meter violators from lot Econ-A was completed, he returned to working with Sam assisting him with collections and meter replacements. Nearly two generations separated them, but the two men continued to enjoy riding around campus and chatting about the university. They both liked gossip and exchanged interesting tidbits about various people working for both the parking department and the campus police department. Sam seemed to know all the dirt about the office staff and the miscellaneous affairs and scandals that had plagued the department over the years. As best he could, Mike reciprocated with what he knew about other student ticket-writers, although his information was not nearly as interesting as what Sam had to say.

* * *

Throughout January Ruthie and Mike continued developing their relationship. Ruthie chatted incessantly about what she was learning in her geology classes as the couple walked around campus or went on hikes. Unfortunately the weather along the coast was cold and drizzly most of the time, so going to the beach was not much of an option. Instead, on weekends they went inland and explored.

Two weeks after the semester started they went to Sacramento very early on a Sunday morning. Ruthie had something special in mind: she wanted to have Mike take some pictures of her standing in front of the state capitol building with nothing on. The Sacramento photo session was the most risky they had ever attempted, because of all the security around the building. Mike knew better than to argue, however. They came very close to being caught, but after several tries, they managed to time her posing during the few seconds that no one else was in sight. Once they had the pictures, Ruthie rushed to pull her dress over her head. They heard someone yelling at them, so they took off running. Fortunately whoever it was did not follow. Of all the nude pictures Ruthie had of herself, the ones she had taken in front of the California legislature were her most prized, precisely because of the challenge she had Mike had to overcome to get them.

As for what they did on campus, their lives had settled into a routine. Ruthie’s new schedule allowed her more time to eat lunch, which she always had with Mike. However, in the evenings Ruthie and Mike did not always eat together because of their class schedules. When Ruthie was in class Mike ate with his friends from the Danubian Solidarity Committee; when Mike was in class Ruthie ate with Jen. Jen seemed indifferent whether Ruthie accompanied her to dinner or not, but to Ruthie it was extremely important never to be seen eating alone in the cafeteria. Several times she saw Shannon or some of Shannon’s friends looking at her with total disdain, so there was no way that Ruthie ever would humiliate herself by letting those bitches see her sitting unaccompanied.

* * *

Throughout January Ruthie became increasingly skilled at massaging Mike. She started with him facing down, going from his feet to his shoulders. That part relaxed him, but when he turned over for her to work on his front, she concentrated on getting him aroused. She started with his shoulders and chest; then worked her way to his stomach and thighs. When she was about to finish she asked him to spread his legs so she could massage the insides of his thighs and his pelvis. She gently brushed his testicles and penis until he was hard. As soon as she saw a drop of pre-cum she stopped and lubricated herself while he put on a condom.

One night she decided to try something different. She was having menstrual cramps and was in no mood whatsoever to have him enter her. When she saw the drop of pre-cum, she did not stop. Instead she continued massaging his pubic area and teasing his testicles. When he tried to sit up, she placed her hand against his chest to push him back down. Then she began massaging his penis. She stroked him back and forth until she felt his organ pumping in her hand. A few seconds later jets of white sperm shot out and splashed all over his stomach and chest. She winced slightly because she was totally nauseated at what she was seeing, but she continued pumping his penis. Mike arched his back and groaned with pleasure. Ruthie kept at it, determined to get all of the semen out of him before she stopped. He grabbed her thigh and groaned again as he emptied another round of cum onto his stomach. For some reason she was irritated when he grabbed her thigh, but she was relieved that she had managed to get him to climax without having to deal with actually having sex.

When he finally went limp, she glanced at the disgusting mess on his stomach. The smell was unpleasant. She knew that in porn movies the woman would be expected to lick off the semen, but there was no way in Hell she would do such a thing, and Mike knew better than to suggest it. Ruthie got a towel and rubbed it over his body. She was hugely relieved. Mike’s portion of the evening’s pleasuring had ended. Now it was his turn to massage her and they would be done for the night. She made sure he was completely dried off before she threw the towel at his dirty clothes sack. She handed him the massage oil and lay down to wait for her massage.

An hour later Ruthie and Mike got cleaned up. When he walked her back to her dorm, they were quiet. Mike was wondering about the strange thing Ruthie had done to him, getting him to climax without wanting sex herself. Ruthie, having made a valuable discovery, was wondering how often she could get away with giving Mike a simple hand-job without arousing his suspicions that she really did not enjoy having sex with him.

* * *

During the second half of January, Mike continued to help Sam collect coins from the meters. There were days the take was well over $ 15,000. As always, whenever Sam ran across a meter that was jammed, he casually dumped the coins into a beat-up plastic box stored in the toolbox of his pick-up truck. Mike didn’t think anything about those coins for a while, but then he realized that he had never seen Sam bring those extra coins into the office to deposit in the coin counter. The next day he observed Sam and noticed that once again, his partner must have “forgotten” to bring in those coins. It seemed that every day Sam “forgot” about the money in his truck’s toolbox. Mike smiled at the petty embezzlement, but then he realized it was not so petty. If Sam kept the earnings off ten to twelve jammed meters from each shift; that would amount to $500 per day, or $2500 per week. Not a bad way to supplement his salary.

Mike never considered telling anyone about Sam’s toolbox. As long as his co-worker was not putting him at risk, Mike had no motivation whatsoever to report the theft. What would he get out of it? Sam was a nice enough guy and was generous with offers of free Cokes and coffee… so what would be the point of doing anything against him? Besides, Sam had found a way to stick it to the system, to get a piece of the action for himself. Hey… as long as he had the guts to do it and could get away with it… more power to him. Taking coins was not something Mike would consider doing, but if Sam did it; that was not his problem.

They next day Mike stood looking down a long row of meters, while Sam sat in the pickup writing some notes in a logbook. He thought about Ruthie’s situation…how just $5,000 had made the difference whether she could continue with her studies or have to sit at home in Salinas doing nothing… $5,000… half of what Sam was taking out of the meters in a typical month.

There were 30 meters in the row he was looking at. Multiplied by $50 per meter, that would be $1,500 in coins just from a single row. If one or two of those meters was jammed… and a couple more in the next row…

Mike took a deep breath. No… he needed to stop thinking like that…

Chapter 21 - A Perfect Job for Ruthie

January ended on an ominous note for both Mike and Ruthie.

Mike received an e-mail from his sister Colleen telling him that his parents had held a garage sale and sold off about half of their furniture. Even more disconcerting was the news that Mr. Sinclair had given Mike’s sister all of his LP’s and instructed her to sell them on the Internet. She found a collector that bought the entire collection, along with the record player. Once the sale was final and the records were shipped to the buyer, Mr. Sinclair told his daughter that she needed to declare the sale as income in her own name and that he would reimburse her if she had to pay any taxes.

Mike talked to Colleen on the phone about what was happening to his parents. She was very worried, especially after disposing the LP’s. The collection was one of their father’s most prized possessions and would be irreplaceable, but he seemed very glad to be rid of it. At the end of their conversation she commented:

“It’s pretty obvious Dad’s liquidating. He’s trying to get rid of everything in the house that anybody could want. At the rate he’s going, I wouldn’t put it past him to pawn the car.”

* * *

While Mike was worrying about his parents’ vanishing finances, it seemed that both of Ruthie’s parents were determined to pressure her already rattled nerves. During their usual Friday conversation at the end of January, Ruthie’s mother relayed several pieces of bad news in a single day: that a cousin in Sinaloa had been murdered and was found hanging from a bridge, that her hours at work had been cut and she probably would have to move to a one-room apartment, and that Gerardo’s baby had a genetic problem and was in the hospital.

Worst of all, Ruthie’s younger cousin Alex disappeared for several days and then showed up seriously beaten. Ruthie suspected the worst, that Alex had been “jumped” into the gang he was hoping to join. Ruthie’s mother doubted that, but admitted that Alex was getting into some serious trouble and his parents were in total denial about it. Anyhow, something was not well between Ruthie’s uncle and his wife, because he was gone most of the time. Ruthie suspected her uncle’s absence must have been part of the reason he seemed so detached from what was happening to his youngest son.

The problems at home were wearing on Doña Lisette. She was less pleasant to talk to than ever. Her reaction was what Ruthie expected: she assumed that God was angry at her for some reason and it was up to her to figure out what she had done wrong. She speculated over the phone that perhaps her faith was being tested because the “end times” was approaching. Ruthie rolled her eyes, but as always, held her tongue.

Nor was the re-surfacing of Ruthie’s father, Jake Burns, doing anything to reduce her anxiety. He talked to her a couple of times and started dropping hints that she needed to leave California and move to Nebraska. On the surface he was trying to be practical, but Ruthie knew that he had an ulterior motive. If he could get his daughter to return to his house, he would have a free babysitter to look after Jake Jr. while he went out with his new girlfriend. Oh yes… just what Ruthie needed, to go to Lincoln and sit home on the weekends taking care of Debra’s kid.

By the end of January, Ruthie dreaded talking to either of her parents. Each was totally screwed up and both were projecting their problems and anxieties onto their daughter through guilt-tripping her. At times Ruthie wished she could somehow force Jake and Lisette to get back together so they make each other’s life miserable instead of making hers miserable. More often she just wished they’d both vanish. She was very resentful that life had made her the offspring of such a pair of idiots.

* * *

The ominous news from his parents’ house prompted Mike to treasure his relationship with Ruthie more than ever. He was careful to make sure that she was always happy with him, even if that meant leaving her alone at times. As much as he would have liked her to be in his room continuously, he tried not to pressure her to come over, knowing that pressuring her to spend time with him would have the opposite result. He understood that he needed to be careful not to smother her or take up too much of her time… that she needed space and there were times she needed to be by herself. That was the most valuable lesson that he managed to carry away from his relationship with Lisa: that the moment Ruthie felt obligated to spend time with him against her wishes, that would be the beginning of the end of the relationship. She would have to want to spend time with him. He was smart enough to know that.

Although she spent somewhat less time with him than she had the previous semester, Ruthie still was with Mike a lot and continued to rely on him for transportation, walking her back and forth to the library after dark, and as a companion during most of her meals. He also remained the only person with whom she really could have a conversation and who could help keep her thoughts grounded in reality. Mike’s willingness to hear Ruthie out was especially important any day she had talked to either of her parents, because she suffered mood swings and depression after hanging up. It was only because of Mike that Ruthie could keep her anxiety attacks under control.

During the first month of the semester, Ruthie and Jen established their routine in the room. The novelty of being naked around Jen wore off within a couple of days; Ruthie was able to be naked in her side of the room as much as she wanted and not have to worry about disapproving stares or unpleasant comments. She felt very grateful to have a roommate around whom she could be herself.

Jen’s habit of hanging out in the room wearing only a shirt helped Ruthie feel at ease being totally nude. Jen’s attitude about nudity was much more casual than Ruthie’s. Ruthie was a true nudist, determined to be naked as much as possible, just for the sake of being naked. Even if she was cold or there was risk involved, she still wanted to be naked. For Jen the issue was simply a matter of comfort. She had no particular desire to be outside in the nude, using a swimming suit did not bother her, and she did wear her “knickers” during the day. At the beginning Ruthie described some of her streaking adventures to her roommate. Jen responded that she had never streaked just for the fun of it. Two years before she once rode on her bicycle “starkers” as part of a demonstration against global warming, but she was with a bunch of other people and the protest only lasted a few minutes. She found Ruthie’s fascination with having nude outdoor adventures very odd, but had the courtesy not to criticize.

Most nights the two roommates had their “unwinding time” ritual. Ruthie noticed that Jen always looking towards the left when she stood at the window. Jen once explained that she was looking across the Pacific Ocean towards her home in New Zealand. She was so much anticipating going back. From what her roommate had told Ruthie about the country, she could certainly understand why. From way Jen had described New Zealand, it sounded like a true paradise compared to the crowded state of California.

During their “unwinding time” Ruthie never wore any clothing, even if she was cold. Jen usually wore just her t-shirt. If it was warm enough sometimes she stood at the window fully nude, which for Ruthie was a treat. Jen always stood with her hands or elbows on the windowsill. She leaned over and supported her weight with her arms.

As she sat on the bed just a few feet behind Jen, Ruthie’s eyes usually were fixed on her roommate’s large bare bottom. She never tired of looking at Jen’s attractive figure. She loved studying Jen’s butt whenever she had her back turned, not just during “unwinding time”.

Jen always covered herself up with a blanket when she went to bed. However, she was a restless sleeper that moved about a lot in the night. Normally within an hour or so she had the covers wadded up and pushed to the floor. Ruthie suspected that was why she normally wore the t-shirt to sleep in, to avoid waking up cold in the middle of the night after she uncovered herself.

The room was dimly lit when they slept, because Jen liked having a nightlight near the door in case she needed to go to the bathroom. If Ruthie woke up in the middle of the night, she could stare at her roommate as much as she wanted in the faint illumination coming from the nightlight. Often, if Jen was sleeping with her back towards Ruthie, the freshman gently rubbed her clit and indulged in fantasy. There were times she imagined herself fondling and kissing those bottom-cheeks. She wanted to rub her face against Jen’s backside, to feel the smooth soft skin of those lovely large mounds of flesh. There were times she fantasized about Jen sitting in a chair and making Ruthie kneel in front, instructing her to kiss the insides of her thick thighs and then…slowly she would guide the freshman’s face closer and closer to her lovely vulva…

“You be a good girl now, and make me cum…”

Ruthie rubbed herself faster and faster. Cum…oh yes…cum…cum…

She always felt very guilty afterwards. It was a good thing Mike was not present to see what she was doing.

In spite of being a compatible roommate, Jen was not a gregarious person. It was clear that she never would warm up to Ruthie, although she always tried to treat her with respect. To some extent Jen indulged the freshman by letting her talk, which took up some of her time. She rightly saw Ruthie as a very vulnerable girl who had been traumatized by the atrocious treatment she had received the previous semester from Shannon. Even though Jen did not want Ruthie as a close friend, she did feel that Ruthie deserved to be treated decently.

There were times, however, when the girl’s chatting about her major and her barista job got on her roommate’s nerves. By the beginning of February Jen was just starting to contemplate how she could get Ruthie to talk less without hurting her feelings too badly. A nice option would be to see if there was any way she could get her to fill up some spare time in the afternoons and have her out of the room.

It turned out there was a possible solution. Jen was working as an assistant for one of the art department instructors and knew that he was looking for a student to pose for two of his classes: both of them life-drawing courses for beginners. There happened to be a shortage of models that semester because the Art Department had cut over-time and health benefits at the beginning of January, and several of the models working in the fall had quit to look for other jobs. That meant if Ruthie wanted, she could earn some additional money working for the art department.

Jen brought up the modeling job to Ruthie over lunch. She correctly assumed her roommate would be interested in any job that would actually pay her to not wear any clothing. It turned out there would be no conflict between Ruthie’s class schedule and the hours she would be working in the art building. As soon as they were done eating, Jen suggested going over to the art building and introducing Ruthie to the art instructor. Ruthie agreed. Yes, she was very interested indeed.

Jen called the professor to make sure he was in his office and to give him the good news. “I think I found a model for you.”

“Great! For which class?”

“Both. I’m bringing her over right now.”

“Jen, you’re the best!”

Upon overhearing that exchange, Ruthie realized she had just committed herself without knowing any details about her new job, not even how much she would be earning.

Jen led Ruthie into the art building and introduced her to an ordinary-looking man in his late 40s’. Ruthie noticed his eyes scanning her body with an approving expression. He asked her some questions about her experience with art, to which Ruthie admitted that she had no direct experience at all, just a few miscellaneous details picked up from her readings of ancient history and biblical studies. The professor then asked her how she felt about her body and nudity. Ruthie’s heart pounded when she responded that she enjoyed being naked and was used to not wearing any clothing when alone at home.

“Well, this’ll be a bit different. You won’t be alone and you won’t be at home. So you think you can handle it?”

“I don’t see why not. I’d think it’d be kinda fun.”

Ruthie’s prospective boss directed her to a large classroom with about 40 easels. There were very large windows around the room that overlooked some tennis courts and a green space. There were no curtains on the windows, so anyone modeling would be in plain sight of people in the green space, especially at night. In the middle of the room there was a raised wooden platform that was about 2 feet higher than the floor. The professor pointed at it.

“This is the models’ platform… where you’ll be spending most of your time working, at least for the next month. If the weather warms up in time, I might ask you to pose outside. So you’re still sure you can handle it?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“One detail. We don’t provide robes. You’ll have to bring your own robe for breaks.”

“I don’t have a robe, but that’ll be OK.”

“You won’t have time to get dressed during breaks. The only thing that’s practical is a robe.”

Ruthie’s heart still pounded. “Is it required? To put on a robe?”

“No… it’s not required… you don’t have to cover up if you don’t want. It’s just that most people do.”

“I’ll be fine. If I need a robe I can always get one later on.”

“OK… as long as you’re comfortable… as the model, that’s what matters; that you stay within your comfort zone.”

Ruthie’s heart continued to pound, because she wanted to remain naked during the breaks and now had the approval of the instructor. Yes… this was gonna be fun!

Ruthie broke the news to Mike over dinner, that she would be starting her new job with the art department the very next day. Mike was happy for Ruthie; that she had landed a job that she would enjoy, but he also was worried about what it could mean for their relationship. While it was true that Ruthie’s hours of modeling would be during the afternoons, when he also was working, it would mean that she would have less time to study during the days, which would put her under more pressure in the evenings and weekends to keep up with her coursework.

Ruthie showed up at the first art class wearing a loose dress and a pair of tennis shoes. As always, she was not wearing any underwear. She already had taken off her jacket and laid it on top of her backpack, which she had set in on top of some shelves. She had brought a blanket from the dorm to sit on and placed it on the model’s platform.

Ruthie leaned against the instructor’s podium while the students filed into the class and set up at their easels. Most of the students were Ruthie’s age and were evenly split between men and women. Ruthie looked at the instructor, who nodded to let her know it was time to get undressed. She kicked off her shoes and pulled the dress over her head, tossing it on top of her backpack. Totally nude, she casually walked to the model’s platform and stood quietly. Forty pairs of eyes were looking at her. She was slightly nervous, but more than anything else she was enjoying the thought of being naked in front of so many people.

“I’d like to introduce you to our new class model Ruthie. She will be with us for the rest of the semester. Please show her your respect, because we are very lucky to have her. Now, for our first session with our new model, we will do a simple standing pose. Please pay attention to how the light coming from the windows illuminates her body. I expect you to incorporate natural shadow into your images.”

The professor turned to Ruthie and told her to stand on the platform. After she stepped up, she felt very exposed and vulnerable, almost like she was naked on a stage. She assumed a casual standing pose, one that she was sure she could hold for 20 minutes. She would have to learn how to stay motionless during more difficult poses, but that would come later.

For 20 minutes she stood quietly. Her eyes moved back and forth as she glanced at the forty students who were staring at her intently. The women were mostly indifferent, but a lot of the guys seemed excited to have a real-live nude girl standing only a few feet in front of them. The instructor walked around the room to check how the drawings were progressing and to keep the male students focused on working instead of staring.

When the break came, Ruthie walked over to the instructor’s podium to have a glass of water. Had she been any other model, she would have put on a robe before leaving the platform, but being the exhibitionist she was, she remained naked. She drank some water and stretched her arms over her head while the students changed their drawing papers.

The professor was not sure what to make of his new model’s total lack of modesty. She was ignoring art class protocol by not using a robe when she wasn’t posing, but it was obvious that she was comfortable with her body, which was something the instructor appreciated. As long as she was at ease with her nudity, he’d respect that and have no objections if she wanted to remain uncovered throughout the breaks. Anyhow, her lack of inhibitions would serve the class well later in the spring, when the sessions would move outside so the students could practice drawing the human figure in sunlight.

For the final part of her first modeling session Ruthie sat on the towel, once again in a simple pose that would be easy to maintain for 20 minutes. Already the novelty of what she was doing was starting to wear off, but hey… she was naked and she was getting paid for it. For Ruthie it didn’t get much better than that.

The art instructor showed his model a sketchbook with a series of poses that would be progressively more difficult as the semester progressed. Towards the end of the course she would have to attempt to mimic frozen movement such as a jump or a run. There also were poses that would be very difficult for anyone with any modesty at all, which of course for Ruthie was not a problem.

On the third day of her modeling, the instructor told Ruthie to get on her elbows and knees, facing away from most of the students. The posture forced her to lewdly expose herself, something that she loved doing. It was a real rush to feel the cool air of the classroom blowing against her vulva and anus, knowing that forty people were intently studying the most intimate part of her body. Too bad it was only forty. She wished it could have been the entire university… or better yet… the entire state of California. Yes… she truly was an exhibitionist.

Although she really enjoyed what she was doing, Ruthie was surprised that she did not make any new friends as a result of her modeling job. It turned out that she did not care for any of the students in either class. The majority of the people enrolled were freshmen and sophomores that were taking the subject as an elective. Very few had any talent for drawing: most of the works produced in the classes did not look like her at all. It was obvious that some of the guys had enrolled just to have the chance to see women without their clothes. At the beginning the voyeurs stood at their easels ogling Ruthie, but as the month progressed their interest in her waned and their drawings never got any better. Most of the female students were sorority types that had thought drawing would be easier than most other subjects. Although she realized it was silly, Ruthie took it personally when, at the end of each class, she saw the multitude of sketches that were poorly done and not flattering to her.

There were a few declared art majors among the group who produced much better images than most of their flaky classmates. The artists were serious about their training, but they looked at Ruthie in the detached manner as a “subject”, not very different from a bowl of fruit or any other inanimate object.

Ruthie had wondered about possibly making friends with some of the more serious art majors, but personality issues, both hers and those of the art students, got in the way. As always, Ruthie’s nervous behavior and difficulty making small talk complicated her efforts to make new friends. She could not talk about art because it really did not interest her, while geology was not something the typical art major would want to hear about. Besides, the artists tended to be so wrapped up in themselves, that in comparison they made Jen look like the picture of friendliness. They were a cliquish group that did things Ruthie did not approve of, such as defacing their bodies with tattoos and piercings, and using ecstasy and pot.

* * *

By the end of February Mike realized that his relationship with Ruthie had not changed as much as he had feared it would a month earlier. Her failure to make any new friends, along with her experiences with some of the male art students, kept her emotionally tied to him.

Several guys enrolled in life-drawing tried to hit on Ruthie. However, it was clear the only reason they were interested in her was because they had seen her in the nude day after day and assumed that she was “easy”. Even for someone as socially inept as Ruthie, it was obvious they had no interest in getting to know her as a person. She rebuffed them by telling the truth, that she had a boyfriend. When one guy was overly insistent, she asked Mike to pick her up from class to show everyone she was indeed off-limits. She took his arm and glanced at the art student who was pressuring her. See? I told you I had a boyfriend…

Mike had to take a break from his parking job to get her, so he arrived in his uniform and received a lot of hostile looks. Ruthie never realized it, but having Parking Officer # 036 come into the building finished off whatever chances she might have had connecting with someone in the art department. Nearly all of the students enrolled in the two courses had received numerous meter violation tickets from that hated “Parking Nazi”. Now everyone knew the class model was his girlfriend.

Once again, even in the art department Ruthie Burns was an outsider. She didn’t belong with the art crowd any more than she belonged with any other group. She couldn’t relate to them. It seemed that, no matter what, life always pushed her back into Mike’s arms. He always was there for her… the only solid part of her existence that she could count on. He was her companion, really the only person in all of Davenport who even cared whether she lived or died.

During one of her counseling sessions Dr. Hartman pointed out: “Remember, there’s a lot worse things to base a relationship on than the need for companionship.”

* * *

At the end of February Doña Lisette changed apartments. She had to move out of the relatively comfortable place she had shared with Ruthie over the past six years because she no longer could afford the rent. The place she moved to was a single room unit in a complex that was considerably more run-down. She could not deal with the humiliation of having her fellow church-goers assisting her and her brother still was not speaking to her. That left only one person who could help her move: her daughter.

Ruthie drafted Mike to help out. He drove his girlfriend to Salinas, rented a van, and showed up at her mother’s place. Doña Lisette was not very talkative, even though she was grateful that he had made himself available to help her with her stuff. She packed boxes while Mike and Ruthie exhausted themselves lugging cheap furniture down the steps and loading it into the van. The young couple exchanged looks the first time they saw her mother’s new apartment. Ruthie summed it up best by commenting:

“This totally sucks.”

They spent all afternoon exerting themselves, but finally, after four trips in the van, they had all the furniture and boxes moved. Mike returned the rental and showed up in his own car. Ruthie and her mother thanked him by having dinner ready. They ate quietly. Mike could tell that his girlfriend’s mother was depressed from being forced to let him see what had happened to her.

As she ate her joyless dinner, Ruthie’s nervous eyes scanned the small dank dwelling. She was angry that, after so many years of loyal service to her employer, the only reward her mother had received was to be bumped down from full-time to part-time status. The new hours meant not only the loss of a third of her income, but also the cancellation of all her benefits. The only consolation was that she hadn’t been laid off…yet.

* * *

When they returned to Davenport, the two students walked to the observatory that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. Ruthie badly wanted to be held as she tried to make sense out of what had happened that afternoon. She was very grateful to have her companion’s arms around her and his body shielding her from the cold night breezes.

She pulled his hand to her lips and kissed it. I don’t know what you see in me, Mike, she thought to herself. I’m a totally sucky girlfriend.

Her thoughts turned back to her mother. She mumbled: “So much for ‘el sueño americano’.”

“Yeah… I guess so…”

“You know… all she needs is an apartment. Just a fucking apartment. And now she can’t even have that.”

Mike remained quiet. He was depressed, but his depression was changing over to anger. He knew that an era had passed, a time that working hard and being productive meant anything. His father had worked hard all his life, only to lose his house and his business. Ruthie’s mother had worked hard all her life, only to end up as a part-time employee living in squalor. It seemed that no one got ahead by working hard anymore. Across the US there were millions… tens of millions of Mr. Sinclairs and Doña Lisettes… honest people pushed into the dirt by paid-off politicians and sociopathic CEO’s…

So what does all that really mean? What kind of nation are we turning into?

Mike thoughts turned to his co-worker Sam Rayburn, with his lazy temperament, his plot of land in the mountains, and the daily bucket of coins that paid for his laid-back lifestyle.

That ain’t working, that’s the way you do it. Your money for nothing…

Sam was the one who had everything figured out. Everyone else that Mike knew, himself included, had been played for fools.

Chapter 22 - Extra Income

When Mike went to work the following Monday, his mood had not improved from the way he had felt over the weekend. He was very angry about what had happened to Doña Lisette, partly because he was worried about the effect it might have on Ruthie and her temperament, and partly because of his concept of fairness. Ruthie was depressed and moody enough as it was, and it was certain that thinking about her mother wasn’t going to improve her outlook on life.

It was strange to think that just a year before his attitude about the woman’s predicament would have been totally different. The idea of an immigrant having her work hours cut would not have bothered him; his response would have been “if you don’t like it, go back to Mexico.” Well, that was a year ago. Now it was a situation that hit home because it involved not an anonymous immigrant, but his girlfriend’s mother.

After completing his morning classes, Mike arrived at his job to find his co-worker Sam in his usual spot in the parking garage, sitting in the parking truck waiting for him. Right away Mike noticed that Sam was not his usual laid-back self. Although he was doing what he could to hide his emotions, he seemed pensive and was visibly worried.

“Are you OK, Sam?”

“Yeah… OK… but it looks like you’re gonna have to hit the ground running. Solo for a while.”

“Why’s that?”

“Management called me in. Told me that I’m way overdue to take my vacation time… that I’ve got six weeks of use-or-lose leave built up. I said…’it don’t bother me… I ain’t got nowhere to go’, but Don… you know, from personnel…says: ‘Sorry Sam…it doesn’t work like that. You’ve gotta take your time before the end of the semester, or we’ll have the university after us. So guess what? Enjoy your vacation. We’ll see you in six weeks’.”

“But what’s the problem? If you’ve earned your vacation, why wouldn’t you want to take it?”

Sam paused for a moment, as though he was trying to come up with a credible answer. “I dunno. It’s just that you get used to your routine… and now I’ve gotta spend six weeks sitting at home looking at the old lady and doin’ nothing. And I guess I was hoping you’d get a bit more experience before you’d have to run solo.”

“Sam… I’m sure I’ll be fine. Do you have a number where I can call you if I have a question?”

“Yeah… a number… good idea.”

Sam wrote two phone numbers on the back of a ticket envelope: his house number and “the old lady’s cellphone”.

“OK… looks like you’re it… for the next six weeks. See you at the end of April. Good luck, and if you need anything… call me.” Sam was quiet for a moment, and then added:

“Listen… you’re gonna figure out there’s two ways of doing things around here. The management way and the common sense way. If you have any questions about which is which, give me a call.”

Sam took a deep breath, shook Mike’s hand, and got into his own car. Mike watched as he pulled out of the parking garage. He reported to the dispatcher to pick up a radio and returned to Sam’s office to get a box of batteries out of the refrigerator. He opened up the toolbox, and saw his co-worker’s plastic bucket. Sam must have forgotten to take it out, but he did remember to take out the coins from his last shift.

Mike drove out of the garage and took the pickup truck to the motorpool to get gas. Poor Sam, he thought to himself. It was obvious he had procrastinated taking his vacation for several years and it finally caught up with him. If he had not known ahead of time that he was going to be forced to take time off, there was a very good chance that he was not prepared to live off nothing but his legitimate salary for six weeks. Times were going to be tight at home, and he would have a hard time explaining to the “old lady” why all of a sudden he had no money.

As Mike drove back to campus another thought occurred to him. Sam had a much more important reason to be worried than just the sudden loss of his extra income. Assuming Mike turned in the money from the jammed meters instead of keeping it, every day there would be an extra five hundred dollars from meter collections. That probably was not something that would be noticed for a while, until the finance unit ran a comparison. After several weeks, management would realize that with Sam absent on vacation, meter collections were consistently up by several hundred dollars every single day. Then what? Anyone in finance with any brains at all would start asking questions.

Mike felt bad for Sam. He had never seen his co-worker worried before, and seeing Sam worried was not a pleasant sight. He felt guilty because now that Sam was not in control of the meter collections box, it was very possible he would get in trouble. Various scenarios played out in Mike’s mind. The most likely simply would be that Sam would be closely watched upon getting back and would have to lay low for a while. Maybe he’d be transferred or forced to retire. That would suck. Or maybe it would be worse than that. If there was an investigation… would it be possible that management, or even the police, would ask Mike what he knew? How would he respond?

Mike pushed that thought aside and began his routine collecting money from the meters. He vaguely hoped that he would not come across any that were jammed. He opened up the back of each meter casing, pulled out the canister, and dumped the coins into the metal box. The first coins made a loud clattering noise as they hit the bare metal, rattling Mike’s already stressed nerves.

The seventeenth meter of the day’s route was jammed. The first quarter that had gone in fell sideways and was blocking the opening of the canister. For two days quarters had piled on top as people continued paying the meter but no coins could drop down. The canister was empty and the equivalent of three rolls of quarters spilled out when Mike opened the casing’s door. Mike picked up the coins and put them in Sam’s bucket. He fished out more quarters from inside the casing, checked to make sure the meter was still working, and put back the canister.

The afternoon progressed as Mike continued emptying canisters. It seemed that, just to taunt him, more meters than usual were jammed; eighteen altogether. Then came another taunt, from the radio station:

That ain’t working…that’s the way you do it. Your money for nothing and your chicks for free…

When he drove out of the parking lot, Mike was so stressed that he wasn’t watching where he was going. He nearly hit a couple of frat guys driving an Escalade.

“HEY you stupid parking Nazi! So you want a piece of us? Come-on faggot!”

“Uh… sorry guys… I…”

“Awww… the parking Nazi is sorry!”

“Look… I wasn’t watching. I said I’m sorry. What more do you want?”

To Mike’s alarm one of the frat guys took out a pen and copied his officer number. By regulation he had to give them his name as well. Great. Just what he needed… to have a complaint filed against him the first day he was out in Sam’s truck. And there was no doubt there would be a complaint filed, because those guys hated Mike and would be more than happy to do something that would get him in trouble.

There was nothing more for him to do but finish the meter collections and turn in the money. Just as he was about to head back to the parking garage, Mike heard his radio beep.

“Officer # 36, this is Officer # 06. Where are you right now?”

Shit. Officer # 06 was the shift supervisor.

“Officer # 06, this is Officer # 36. I’m just finishing with the meters by Engineering.”

“Officer # 36, this is Officer # 06. Roger that. When you get back, I need to talk to you. Do you copy?”

“Yes, Officer # 06. I copy.”

Mike was sweating with stress and worry as he returned to the parking garage. He knew that he faced a “talking to” by the shift supervisor. Sure enough, as soon as he unloaded the box of coins and had it dumped its contents into the coin counter, the receptionist told him that the supervisor wanted to see him.

As soon as the student was in his boss’s office, the supervisor closed the door. For the next fifteen minutes Mike withstood being yelled at for being “an irresponsible little shit” and causing trouble for the parking department. Of course, in their complaint, those frat guys exaggerated what happened and stated that Officer # 036 had been rude, unapologetic, and belligerent about his reckless driving. On top of that they claimed that he had called them pair of “frat fags”.

What mattered to Mike’s boss was not the truth, but the fact that one of his employees had been careless with university equipment and exposed the department to a complaint. It did not matter that Mike had earned a huge amount of money for the department for all his hard work ticketing, nor did it matter that from the very beginning Mike admitted that it was he who nearly caused the accident.

After spending fifteen minutes being yelled at and threatened, Mike left the office feeling total despair. He saw himself for what he was, an un-respected and disposable student employee. It was obvious that whatever he had done for the department during the previous semester had no impact on how the managers saw him.

When he returned to Sam’s truck, he took out the box of unused batteries to put back in the refrigerator. His eyes fell on the bucket of coins. He had honestly forgotten about them, with all of the stress over being reprimanded. Screw taking in the coins. He’d deal with the money tomorrow. He took out three defective meters and put them on Sam’s desk, ready to box up and send to the contractor for fixing. Just as he was about to fill out the address labels, his cellphone beeped with a text message. He looked to see what it was. More bad news, from his bank. He had maxed out his overdraft protection and had to pay a $50 service charge.

Mike stood up. Fuck the bank. Fuck the meters. Fuck this job. Fuck Officer # 06. He picked up the phone and was just about to call his supervisor and tell him to take his parking job and shove it, when Sam’s words came back to his mind:

“This job’s what you make out of it. Just like any other job. It’s what you make out of it.”

Now Mike was certain that he understood what Sam was trying to tell him. He understood why his mentor had shown him all those places hidden around the university, and told him all the dirt about how the campus cops were slacking on their shifts. He also suspected that Sam had let him seen what he was doing with his coin bucket on purpose.

This job is what I make out of it…

Mike looked around the parking garage. There was no one in sight. He knew, because Sam had told him, that the security camera was turned to face the main door and its range did not include the spot where the meter truck was normally parked.

Mike looked at the bucket of quarters hidden in Sam’s toolbox. How much money was in there? How many textbooks would it buy? How many nights out with Ruthie? Maybe… even enough for a mortgage payment? At the very least, there was enough money to replenish Mike’s overdraft protection and keep him from getting hit with any further service charges.

Mike struggled with himself. He hoped that God would somehow communicate to him, because he was about to turn his back on the values he had been raised with. He still wanted to believe there was a place in this world for people who were honest. There wasn’t, of course. How many times had his father prayed, gone to church, waited patiently for guidance, or intervention, or even simple encouragement, only to receive deafening silence as a response? Now Mike was receiving the same response…silence.

Words could not describe what happened to Mike at that moment, as he stood alone in the parking garage staring at a bucket of coins sitting in a toolbox in the back of a pickup truck. He had always seen himself as morally superior to most other people, but in an instant that ended. There was no point in trying to be morally superior. Just like everyone else, he had to exist within the set of circumstances life had laid out for him. He needed to resolve his overdraft protection problem, and the only way to do it was to help himself to that bucket of coins.

A piece of the action.

This job is what you make of it.

I’ve been played for a fool… just like everyone else…

Nervously looking around to make sure no one was watching, Mike pulled the bucket out of the tool box and set it in the cabin on the passenger’s side on the seat. His backpack was on the floor. He opened it up, poured out the bucket’s contents, and with trembling hands closed the zipper. Then he returned the bucket to the tool box. He was afraid, having realized that it was totally stupid to have done such a thing in the parking garage. He’d have to go to one of Sam’s hiding places for the next bucket… and yes, there would be a next bucket… and one after that.

Mike knew that there was no way he dared walk out of the parking garage with his backpack loaded down with coins. He had to take the truck back out.

He got on the radio:

“Dispatch, this is Officer # 036. Over…”

“Go ahead, Officer # 036.”

“I’m going over to Econ-A. I need to swap out a meter.”

“Roger that.”

Mike did drive in the direction of Econ-A, but he kept on going. He drove to the dorm lot and parked behind his own car. He opened the trunk and moved his backpack. There. It was done. That money now belonged to Mike Sinclair.

A few minutes later Officer # 036 returned to the parking garage and turned in his radio. He was pale and nervous. The dispatcher gave him a strange look, as though she was fully aware of what he had just done.

Mike then called Ruthie to let her know he’d be a bit late for dinner because he needed to run an errand at his bank. When he got there, they were still open, but just about to close. He lugged his backpack up to a teller.

“Here. I got a phone message about an overdraft. Is there still time to fix it?”

The teller brought up Mike’s account information.

“If you can make a deposit for the full amount by close-of-business, we can waive the fee… since it’s your first time.”

“All I’ve got is some coins… uh… out of my dad’s… uh… vending machine… can I deposit them?”

“Sure. They’re not wrapped?”


The teller dumped the coins into a coin counter. She handed Mike a receipt for $ 656.25. Of that money $ 500.00 went to replenish his overdraft protection, leaving him with a positive balance of $ 156.25. The fifty-dollar fee was waived.

Mike was just about to leave when he realized that in the future it was likely he would need coin wrappers. He asked for some.

“How many do you need?”

“As many as you can give me.”

The teller handed him several batches of wrappers.

At dinner Mike was content to let Ruthie talk about her modeling job and her classes. Normally he was interested in what she had to say, but that night he just wanted her to talk and not have to pay attention to what she was telling him. It was not that he was tired of her. More than ever he wanted her with him, to assure himself that his life still had some purpose to it. But during dinner he was lost in his own thoughts.

Outwardly, the day had been a fairly ordinary one, apart from getting reprimanded by the shift supervisor. In the morning he went to class, in the afternoon he went to work, after work he straightened out a banking problem, and now he was sitting with his girlfriend in the cafeteria. And yet, the day had been one of the most important of Mike’s life, one that changed his entire world-view. During that day, he lost a lot of himself. No longer was he thinking about things such as Mega-Mart and how to prevent the deterioration of the United States and bigger issues such as the meaning of life. Instead, now that a large amount of cash was within his reach, his thoughts were focused on paying off his credit cards, building up his bank account, and getting the money he needed to cover his university expenses for the next few months.

Mike had no intention of telling his girlfriend what he was doing. His main reason was to protect her; if he were to be caught, she could not be blamed if she didn’t know anything. Mike also knew that Ruthie would think less of him if she knew he was supplementing his income with stolen quarters, because in her own way she was idealistic. The squalid detail of Mike stashing coins in his backpack was not something she needed to know about. When he first realized what Sam was doing, he had been tempted to share it with her and hear her thoughts on the matter, but later on was very glad he stayed silent.

As he sat quietly, Mike realized that another thing in his life had changed, apart from how he viewed himself. For the first time since he met her, he was keeping an important secret from his girlfriend. He had promised her that he would never have any secrets from her, and yet now he had one. He felt guilty about violating that trust, even though it would not have done either of them any good whatsoever for her to know.

The next day Mike was nervous as he spent his afternoon twisting canisters and looking at meters. His heart jumped with both fear and anticipation whenever he opened a meter casing and coins fell out. That was “his” money.

When his shift was close to ending, he nervously entered the parking office with the meter collections box on rollers. Fortunately for Mike, the receptionists assumed that his unease resulted from being yelled at the day before, because the story about the reprimand had made its way around the office. With his heart pounding, Mike took Sam’s truck back out and drove to a secluded handicap spot that was concealed behind some bushes. He poured out the day’s coins from the jammed meters into his backpack, drove to the dorm where his car was parked, moved his loot, and returned to the parking garage. For the next six weeks, the trip to the handicap spot, and then to his car, would be part of Officer # 036’s daily routine. Within a week, whatever guilt Mike felt about taking a backpack full of quarters as a daily perk from his job had vanished. The only concerns he had were to avoid getting caught and to make the best of his six weeks.

However, being the analytical person that he was, Mike thought about his situation and tried to make sense out of what he was doing, to justify in his own mind why he had the right to take money from his employer. The reprimand certainly helped, because the afternoon shift supervisor made it very clear that he held the student in low regard and that he could be replaced at any time. If that was the way the Parking Department was going to treat him, then they deserved to get ripped off. Anyhow, what would they do with the money? Spend it on stupid crap like parties for the secretaries and decorations, or for things such as regional conferences and trips for the supervisors. As Sam would say: “Ain’t spending it on us, that’s for sure.”

Mike knew that he was doing his partner a huge favor by following his lead with the coin bucket. There would be no change in the daily amount of money from meter collections during his absence, so upon getting back Sam’s life would return to normal. Mike did resent the fact that he would only have access to six week’s worth of money, but he had to remind himself not to be too greedy. Just a week before, he didn’t have access to any coins at all.

Apart from getting revenge for the reprimand and the idea he was covering for his co-worker, the main justification running through Mike’s mind was “this is the way my official salary ought to be”. He was not stealing because he wanted to live a life of luxury: he was stealing to pay off his debts and to have some money left over for the next semester. In a fair society any salary should cover a person’s basic expenses, and in the case of a university student, why shouldn’t a salary cover the full cost of college? Why should Mike, or any other student, go horribly into debt just to pay for education? Wouldn’t society be better if jobs paid so well that when a student was working, that effort would be sufficient to pay for the university? Other countries paid everything for their university students… why can’t the US? It was a pity that Mike had to put himself at personal risk, just so he could have a decent life that by all fairness should have been a guarantee from society to anyone willing to work.

During that first week that Sam was away, Ruthie noticed that Mike had changed. It was hard for her to define the transformation that had taken place in her boyfriend. It was subtle and yet for her very noticeable. In some ways he was slightly more relaxed, but in other ways his personality seemed to have hardened. It was almost as though he had gotten older. He was more willing to take the initiative during their time together, including what happened during their time together in bed. He seemed less interested in the political topics that had fascinated him since she had met him, and he even skipped the weekly meeting of the Davenport chapter of the Danubian Solidarity Committee. He seemed less bitter about his life and less resentful over what had happened to his parents. During the entire week she did not hear a single rant against Mega-Town Associates, nor any comments about the spoiled “beautiful crowd”; the elite students who drove around campus thinking the world owed them deference. The only thing she could guess was that perhaps Mike’s father had found a solution to his problems, although her instincts told her that was not likely. It had to be something else.

She did observe something very strange whenever they went out; starting on the Friday night after Sam went on vacation. Mike took her to Santa Cruz for dinner, to a nice restaurant where the bill was $80. He was not bothered in the least by the cost. He surprised the waitress by handing her eight rolls of quarters. He left a roll of quarters on the table as a tip. When they stopped for gas, he handed over another three rolls of quarters. They stopped at a couple of used book stores, and he bought her several books with yet more quarters. She hugged him in gratitude, but was curious to know why he had so many quarters. He responded with a lie, claiming that he had saved all his coins when he was in high school and was now spending them.

* * *

Ruthie was more conflicted than ever about her relationship with Mike. There was not a chance she would leave him, because he provided her with the only companionship she had in her life. He was always there for her: to take her out, to calm her down when she had an anxiety attack, to escort her around campus, and most importantly as someone to talk to. If she was away from him for too long, she felt lonely and unprotected, because she did not have anyone else to keep her company.

So… what was the problem? She had a hard time figuring that out. As she sat in Dr. Hartman’s office, she tried to work out her feelings towards her boyfriend. She did not love him romantically. There was not a hint of sexual attraction. She had no idea what she wanted from him for the future; even the thought of any future at all made her cringe. Dr. Hartman speculated that Ruthie did love Mike, but in a platonic or family way, similar to the feelings she might have had for her cousins Gerardo and Rosa, only more intense. She wanted Mike as a big brother, not as a romantic partner.

Ruthie considered that suggestion. A big brother. She had never had a big brother; the closest to that was her cousin Gerardo.

As her confidence in Dr. Hartman increased, Ruthie was able to talk more openly about her problems with Mike and sex. She told the counselor about the first time she tricked him into settling for a simple hand-job instead of allowing him to enter her. “I kinda played a little trick on Mike... sort of a naughty one. We got cleaned up and I told him I'd give him a massage and got him worked up... but I had my usual thing about having sex with him, so I sat next to him and kept touching him... and got him to come... I knew that he wanted to have sex, but I managed to get out of it. I made sure I got it all before I stopped massaging him...”

Ruthie noticed that Dr. Hartman was smiling slightly. She continued, “It was a disgusting mess all over his stomach... I kinda said ‘oops’, but I was giggling because it was what I wanted to do...”

“Oops, like you didn't mean to bring him?”

“Yes, Dr. Hartman... like... oh too bad... sort of... I mean, I don't feel bad about it because I did get him to come... it’s just I got out of having sex. I'd like to do that more often. But looking at all that semen all over his stomach was kinda gross.”

“You shouldn’t worry about that. Most men aren't all that picky about how it happens. I'm sure he was just fine with it.”

“He sort of is... worried about it, I mean... he likes to come inside me.”

“Which is not your favorite activity...”

“No. So I got out of it. Yay!”

“And yet, he got to come... so it really was a win/win.”

“I ‘spose that's true Dr. Hartman, it's not like he was mad at me or anything. The only thing... was that seeing all that semen on him was a gross-out for me. He let me clean him up with a towel, which I was glad.”

“That was nice… so he didn’t want you to...”

“I couldn't have done that. At the very beginning of our sex I told him I can't do oral. I'm grossed out by the thought of a penis in my mouth.”

“Well, does he accept that, or does he sometimes bring it up?”

“He accepts it. As I mentioned a while back, I told him that I have sensitivity problems in my vagina and he will have to understand it's something I can't help. If he were different, I know he would have left me over the sex issue, but that is not a central part of our relationship. We're both very lonely, and we're together out of companionship.”

“Remember what I said a while ago. There are worse things to base a relationship on than a need for companionship.”

“I realize something though. In some ways I’m with him like I am with my mom. With her it's religion. With him it's sex. I submit to doing things that are not in my nature to just get by.”

“Once you graduate and find a job, you'll be able to be yourself more. Just hang in there!”

“That seems so far off, Dr. Hartman. So far... Anyhow... what am I gonna do with Mike? I can't marry him. I don't want kids. Right now the sex issue is something I deal with maybe twice a week... to have to do that every night? I couldn't.”

The counselor nodded.

“I don't know, Dr. Hartman. He's already talking... like where would I like to live in the future, what kind of house would I like, that sort of thing. And he mentioned kids. I didn't say anything but the very thought of that makes me cringe. So I get nervous... I get these anxiety attacks. But the problem I have is that I'm real scared of being alone.”

End of part 7

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