Back to School

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*Author’s note: This story has a political element to it, but it’s not about politics. Readers tend to get rather edgy anytime I reference either politics or religion. (I’ve been told to both ‘stop preaching’ and ‘go to hell you fucking atheist’ from readers of the same story!) Obviously, I’m going to infuse my personal views into my characters as it would be impossible to do a credible job writing about things I don’t believe in. With that in mind, this is a love story where the political element brings the main characters together, not a forum to ‘preach’ my political point of view even if it appears that way.

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“Okay. Let’s start off with the most expensive and controversial asset. What about the house?” his attorney asked hers.

The husband answered for himself. “She can keep it.”

“No, you don’t have to do that, Michael. We can sell it and divide the profits,” she insisted.

“No. This was all my fault, Claire. I threw away our marriage on a whim. So please, keep the house.”

Their attorneys ticked off every major item they jointly owned as the divorcing couple agreed who would get what. Neither attorney had ever handled a divorce that went this smoothly.

He was willing to let her have almost everything even though he was walking away with nearly a half million in cash and other assets. In turn, she’d give up all future interest in his company that was still earning them both a ton of money.

“He can have two of the three cars,” she said. “I just need one to get around in. I’d like to keep the Buick Regal if that’s okay.” It was a brand new 2016 model with less than 3,000 miles on it.

“Of course it is, honey,” he said before realizing he couldn’t call her that anymore. He looked over at her and said, “Sorry. Old habits.”

She tried to smile but couldn’t. The affair had killed her. She’d never cheated. Hell, she’d never even looked. And then one day out of nowhere he told her he’d been screwing his cute, young executive assistant for months. She was dumbfounded having never so much as suspected anything. She’d been devastated and knew from day one she’d never be able to forgive him for having flushed twelve years of marriage down the toilet in an instant. Even so, she refused to let bitterness rule her life, and she mostly managed to remain cordial but formal when dealing with him.

“I want something else, though,” she told him.

“Name it,” he replied.

“I want you to pay for me to go back to school and finish my bachelor’s. I dropped out of college my senior year when I married you and I want to get my degree. It’s just two semesters, Michael.”

“Done,” he said. “What else?”

“That’s it,” she told him.

Claire was to receive alimony payments plus tuition, book, and fees for one year to give her time to finish her education and find a job. He would pay the property taxes and all maintenance on the home for the same period of time, after which she would be totally responsible for it herself meaning she could live there, sell it, or rent it out as she chose.

The ‘big revelation’ had come just six months ago and she’d lived alone in that great big house by herself ever since as she demanded he leave that very night. He assured her he’d stopped seeing the younger woman several weeks prior and had since apologized a hundred times begging her to take him back, but Claire wanted nothing more to do with him. She couldn’t even stand to look at him anymore as the only thing she could see was him…with her.

She’d initially cried off and on for weeks, but all that was behind her now. She did occasionally struggle with bitterness, but she was winning that battle, too. Claire still didn’t know exactly how to move on, but she knew she had to. Going back to school seemed to be the most logical place to start as it would be familiar to her and somewhere she could fit into anonymously without the pity of her friends; friends who rarely called anymore and who came by even less often. Claire had learned very quickly that friends who were married were often friends of her and Michael rather than true friends of her own. The only exceptions had been her mother, her sister and best friend Carol, and her other friend from high school who lived out of state, Janet Sherman.

Claire had always been an excellent student, but it had been more than 12 years since she’d been in a formal classroom. Even so, she couldn’t wait to throw herself into her studies while letting the emotional wounds heal and maybe one day she’d be ready to date again. Classes were starting in two weeks and she’d already re-enrolled banking on Michael’s guilt to pay for it. It wasn’t as though she was destitute. Half of everything they owned was hers. It was just that by keeping the house and the Buick, she was ‘cash poor’ and the alimony payments would only just cover her necessary expenses. If she wanted any money to spend, she would have to get a part-time job and that was just fine with her.

And bahis firmaları then there was dating. She smiled a wry smile when she thought about it. She’d tried going out with an old friend one time a couple of weeks ago, but she hadn’t been ready. In spite of having done nothing wrong, she’d felt like she was somehow being unfaithful to her cheating husband the entire time they were out together. And as much as she’d always liked this guy, he did nothing for her romantically. Ironically, once he learned that’s all he meant to her, the friendship they’d previously had died on her front porch. He’d tried to kiss her goodnight, but she’d turned away and given him a friendly hug instead. He got the message and had never called her back. In fact they hadn’t even spoken since.

That was just as well as the last thing Claire felt like she needed was to be romantically involved with someone at this point in her life. She needed time to clear her head—and her heart—so returning to the University of Washington to finish up her degree in political science felt like the perfect place to start. She’d not only loved going to college but her chosen major, as well. Claire never thought of herself as someone who would ever run for office or even work in the government, but she loved the study of politics and the way political power was wielded in America and around the world.

She was raised in the home of liberal Democrats in a suburb just outside Seattle, but unlike most of her peers, she found herself not only not embracing liberal politics in college, but rejecting large portions of liberal ideology altogether. That said, she could never be a far-right conservative either, and ended up finding a home as more of a Libertarian than anything else.

Claire neither loved nor hated government, per se, she just wanted it to leave her alone and do a few things really well—like national defense and creating an environment where people could succeed if they worked hard and played by the rules. She thought governments at all levels should also live within their means and heartily rejected the notion that governments weren’t like families. She laughed when she thought about that. “Right! Families don’t have printing presses. THAT’S what makes them different.”

That said, she believed in a strong social safety net for those physically or mentally unable to work but not some cradle-to-grave security cocoon for anyone and everyone to include those unwilling to work. She also had no desire to support the kinds of social policies she found on the evangelical Right and considered to be repressive and regressive. She didn’t care what people did in the privacy of their bedrooms or their homes as long as they didn’t harm anyone else. So she was neither far Left nor far Right but considered herself to live in a kind of political ‘Goldilocks zone’ and patiently suffered the slings and arrows from family and friends at either end of the two extremes.

After meeting with an adviser who welcomed back to academia, Claire knew exactly how many credits she’d need to graduate and which courses she had to take as well as what she could take as electives. Actually, she only had two courses which weren’t mandatory and one of them intrigued her. It’s title was “POL S 469: Law and Rights in Authoritarian Regimes” and of all the classes she was taking that semester, this one seemed the most interesting—and potentially the most controversial.

She’d picked up her student ID that morning and felt a twinge of sadness when she saw her photo on it. Everyone she knew told her she still looked great at 34. Well, she’d be 35 in two months, but still…. She tried not to be overly critical as she looked at it again. She’d worn her very dark-brown hair short—above her ears—for the last ten years and she had to admit it really worked for her considering the shape of her face. Long hair made her longer-looking face just look, well…longer, and short hair did just the opposite. It was perfect for her and even now she loved the way it looked on her.

She also still had very smooth skin and Claire was often complimented on her gorgeous smile and beautiful blue eyes. She’d gone back to the gym a month after the ‘big revelation’ even though her body still looked great. She needed the distraction and to her surprise, she found she loved the way the workouts made her feel—after they were done. It also didn’t hurt that the light weights she used had nicely toned up what was already otherwise still pretty darned tight. All in all, she was finally starting to get a small amount of self-confidence back and that felt best of all.

The day after the meeting with the attorneys, Claire went back to the UW book store to pick up her required materials for the first semester’s classes. Two things shocked her. The first was the price of books. It was outrageous! She was paying well over twice what she’d paid just over a decade ago and if that wasn’t bad enough, she couldn’t believe how young everyone kaçak iddaa else looked. Even the seniors buying some of the same books she was looked like children to her. “If I get even one ‘mom’ comment, I’ll die!” she thought to herself as she reached for one of the last two copies of a book for her Authoritarian Regimes class.

A girl with purple hair and a nose ring stepped in front of her and grabbed one of them not even bothering to say ‘excuse me.’ Claire held her tongue then reached for the last one. Just as she picked it up she heard a voice behind her say, “I know you’re not gonna take the last copy.” She turned around and saw a younger man—gee, what a surprise—smiling at her with a kind of lop-sided grin. “Is it safe to assume you’re taking Authoritarian Regimes this semester?” he asked.

“I was planning to,” she said as she stood there looking at him.

He just stood there looking back at her, his hands on his hips and his head cocked slightly to the side. “What?” she said his stare making her feel uncomfortable.

“I can’t believe you’d do that to me, that’s all,” he said finally smiling at her.

“Sorry,” she said sheepishly. “Now I feel bad.”

“Just not bad enough to let me have it though, right?” he teased her.

“Well, if I give it to you, then what would I do?”

“I guess you’d have to go see if they have more copies in back or special order it like it appears I’ll be doing—again,” he replied. “No worries. I’ve done that twice in my first three years here and they do a pretty job of getting them in in a timely manner. Even so, it’s nice to walk out with it in hand so you can read ahead a little.”

“Tell you what,” Claire told him. “If it’s not in before the first day of class, you can borrow mine until it is. Will that help at all?” He was still smiling at her and Claire began noticing he was a very nice-looking guy. His own dark hair was also very short and cut the way most guys wore it the mid-90s. She’d always liked that look but knew hair styles for both men and women changed every few years. That ‘tight fade’ look just happened to be one of her all-time favorites. She also saw he had hazel eyes with those long, thick eyelashes many women, her included, thought were very sexy. The word ‘dreamy’ came to mind and she laughed out loud.

“What? Is something funny or are you just outright mocking me now?” he said still smiling at her. Additionally, he had high cheek bones, a narrow nose, and a very masculine-looking jaw set below an amazing smile and some very nice, very soft…again she laughed when she thought…very kissable…lips.

“No, nothing’s funny. I was just thinking, that’s all. It’s been a very long time since I last went to school here and I guess I just feel like the proverbial fish out of water.”

“Based on the books you in your basket, I’m pretty sure you’re not in grad school. And because you told me you haven’t been here in a while, I’m also guessing you’re a returning senior who’s taken some time off. Am I close?”

Claire’s own laugh surprised even her. “Some time off? Try twelve years.”

“Twelve years?” he said his eyebrows raised high in disbelief. “Wow! I’ve always wondered what it was it like carrying around those stone tablets and chisels. Was it as bad as they say it was?” He had a very serious, very interested look on his face as though she was supposed to answer him directly.

Instead, Claire said, “Oh, thanks. And yabba-dabba-do to you, too, Fred Flintstone.” She raised her chin feigning haughtiness and turned away as she told him, “You see, now I no longer feel bad for taking the last book,” and waving it high in the air.

“Hey, I didn’t even get your name!” he called out as she kept walking.

“That’s right, you didn’t,” she said with a flip of her head and the flash of a quick smile.

He stood there smiling as he watched her walk away and said to himself, “Well, at least there’s one good reason to go to that class now.”

When the first day of classes rolled around, Claire was exhausted. She’d barely slept due to a mixture of feelings that churned and kept her up most of the night. There was some excitement but mostly a lot of pure anxiety. It was silly and she knew it. No one would know her and no one would care she was either excited or apprehensive about going back to school. Still, she couldn’t shake off the raw emotions and trusted they would pass after a day or two.

As she was showering that morning, she thought about the Rodney Dangerfield movie Back to School and laughed out loud. Her first thought was that she’d be looked at as the female version of Dangerfield only without the quirkiness. Her second was that she’d end up failing a class for whatever reason. She’d even dreamed about that sometime during the 3-4 hours she’d fitfully slept. In her dream, she was in class for the first time since the first week of school and it was day of the final exam. She hadn’t read a single page and had no idea what the questions kaçak bahis on the test even meant. All she could think of was failing as she woke up with her heart pounding in her chest.

She momentarily pushed her insecurities aside so she could try and decide what to wear. She laughed when she thought about wearing an Ayn Rand tee-shirt. Drawing that kind of unwanted attention wasn’t something she was willing to put up with and instead chose a light-green tee-shirt and a pair of white shorts. The weather hadn’t turned cold yet this first week in September, and she planned to enjoy it as long as it lasted.

A cup of coffee and a slice of toast was all she could stand to eat that first morning. She downed them both then brushed her teeth and took a last look in the mirror before heading out. A little mascara and a pair of gold studs were all she needed. “Not bad for 34,” she thought to herself before walking away to start her life. Maybe she had been a little too hard on herself.

Authoritarian Regimes was her first class and it started at 11am. There were already about a dozen students sitting in the classroom when she walked in. All of them were college-age kids except for her. She took a seat near the front in the middle of the room where she’d always preferred to sit.

She looked over to her right each time someone else walked in. Just a quick glance to see if there might possibly be someone else closer to her age, but every one of them looked to be under 25 to include that lovely girl who’d stepped in front of her at the bookstore. She’d given up hope when she looked over and saw something that not only caught her eye but caused her to stare. It was a Libertarian tee-shirt. It said, “Freedom is not defined by safety. Freedom is defined by the ability of citizens to live without government interference.” There was a picture of the congressman who said it next to the quote and Claire couldn’t help but feel slightly more at ease.

All she’d seen were the words when she head a voice say, “Mornin’.” He pointed to the empty chair next to her and said, “Do you mind?”

“Oh, hi there!” she said after finally looking at the face that went with the tee-shirt. “Not at all.” It was the other person she recognized from the bookstore whose name she still didn’t know.

He sat his stuff on the floor and said, “I thought I’d sit next to you just in case I need to borrow the last copy of that book. You know, the one you took before I could get to it.”

She gave him a playfully dirty look and said, “I’m guessing they didn’t have any more in stock?”

“Nope. You managed to snag the last one. But with any luck my copy should be here within 2-3 weeks.” He gave her a ‘thanks a lot’ kind of look.

“Two to three weeks? Seriously? That’s ridiculous. You really can borrow mine, you know. We’ll just have to figure out a way to timeshare it.”

He have her one of those raised-eyebrow looks making her feel guilty again so she decided to introduce herself. “I’m Claire, by the way.”

“Hi. It’s nice to meet you, Claire,” he said extended his hand and smiling. “I’m….”

“Okay people. Take a seat. Let’s get started.” The young professor was very thin and had a scraggly-looking beard and wore round, wire-rimmed glasses. He instantly reminded Claire of Pasha, the young, idealistic Communist, in the move, Dr. Zhivago.

Once everyone was settled he began talking. “I’m Dr. Donaldson but you can call me Cliff. It’s my class, but I like to think of myself as one of the people,” he proudly announced.

“This class is Authoritarian Regimes and we’re going to be focusing on two of them right here in our own country of…’Murrica.’” That brought a few nervous chuckles from the class.

Murrica? Claire shook her head almost certain where this was going but just sat and waited to hear him out. “We’re going to be examining American fascism under the guise of political conservatism by exploring the authoritarian, fascist regimes of Reagan and the little weasel from Texas who got us into two illegal, immoral, unnecessary wars in the Middle East by lying and deception thus abusing his power and authority.”

“Great. Here we go again,” the guy to her right said.

The professor heard him and stopped talking. He tilted his head sideways as though he could somehow read the words on the guy’s tee-shirt better that way, but it was clearly just dramatic flair.

“Oh, look! We have someone wearing a fascist tee-shirt in my class on day one. How quaint.”

“Libertarians aren’t fascists—Cliff,” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “We’re strong proponents of limited government and personal freedoms.”

“Uh-huh. And so was the Shrub from Texas,” he said his voice also dripping with sarcasm.

Every student in the class was now staring at the guy sitting next to Claire and many snickered or made some kind of negative comment.

“He’s right, you know,” Claire heard herself saying but not believing she’d said it. When she was in school before, she never had the nerve to stand up for herself and always sat there quietly just taking notes. But she’d been in the real world too long and the comment just came out.

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