Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store
Maren Bradley Anderson
This is the eighth chapter of Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store.
Did you miss a chapter? Click here for the previous chapter.
Click here for Chapter One.
Can’t wait to see what happens? Download the entire book at Smashwords.com or Amazon.com!
Published by Maren Bradley Anderson
Copyright 2011 Maren Bradley Anderson
PRUDE ALERT: This book contains ADULT CONTENT. Enjoy!
Maren Bradley Anderson
This is the eighth chapter of Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store.
Did you miss a chapter? Click here for the previous chapter.
Click here for Chapter One.
Can’t wait to see what happens? Download the entire book at Smashwords.com or Amazon.com!
Published by Maren Bradley Anderson
Copyright 2011 Maren Bradley Anderson
PRUDE ALERT: This book contains ADULT CONTENT. Enjoy!
“This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” Liz said as she balanced on impossibly high heels.
“I can think of crazier things,” said Cal, pinning a bit of Liz’s costume back.
“Not fair, you knew me in college,” Liz said. “Nothing I did before age twenty-five should be held against me.”
“It’s just a good thing none of it hit the papers, or we wouldn’t be here,” Cal said, tugging on a strap. “Damn thing won’t stay up,” she growled.
“What kinds of things did you do in college?” Zeke asked.
Liz grinned at him. “Well, what do you think girls who go to a women’s college do on the weekend?”
“UMASS and fraternity row were just up the road, you know,” said Cal. “And the busses were free on the weekends.”
“Why?” asked Zeke.
“Too keep the drunks off the road between the schools. We called it the ‘love bus.’” Liz giggled.
“That all sounds pretty tame to me,” Zeke said. “Rather typical, especially compared to the current administration.”
“Oh, pooh,” said Cal. “He can’t have had as much fun as they say he did. He’s such a stick-in-the-mud now.” She gave Liz a knowing wink. “We had our fun, didn’t we, Liz?”
Liz smiled. “Those were some times, weren’t they?”
“Oh, come one,” Zeke pleaded. “You can’t tease me like that! Give me some details.”
“Not here, Zeke,” Cal said. “It’s silliness, anyway. We’ll get together at Thanksgiving and have some drinks and tell all.”
“Promise?” Zeke looked at both of them.
“Promise,” Cal and Liz said, crossing their hearts.
“As long as you deliver some goods, too,” Liz added, smiling.
Zeke sat back and watched as they finished Liz’s outfit. He had counted himself among the luckiest bastards in the world because Liz allowed him to sleep in the same room with her since the “Dion incident.” Granted, Zeke was still dying to sleep with Liz, in the same bed, but one thing at a time. To offset any wild rumors about Liz sleeping in a room with a man, they were careful to announce that Liz was observing enhanced security including a plain-clothes officer stationed in her room at night. No one seemed to give it a second thought, to their immense relief.
Those nights, he watched her sleep and amused himself by creating little vignettes of a home life with her. He knew it wasn’t healthy, so he promised himself that he’d tell Liz how he felt after the election. He couldn’t do it before; that would really screw things up.
Liz finally stood up and turned to him. “So, how do I look?” She wore a gold lamé bathing suit with strategically placed sequins. She also wore a headdress of feathers and eye makeup that made Cleopatra seem conservative.
“You look like an understudy for Showgirls,” Zeke said. “Pretty damn hot.”
“Is that any way to talk to Madam President?” Cal said, scolding, as she applied more kohl to Liz’s face.
“Well, it’s true,” Zeke said. “I mean, her legs go on forever in that getup.”
“Hmm, so it doesn’t scream ‘Leader of the Free World’ to you?” Liz asked.
“Not the poi-nt!” sang Cal, as she handed Liz her note cards. “Now, just don’t trip on those stripper heels, and we’ll be golden.”
“Yes, ma’am! Or Madam!” Liz clicked her ridiculously high heels together in a salute.
Elektra walked in to say, “It’s time, honey. You ready?” Zeke did a doulbe-take when he saw the petite black woman in the shimmery sheath with the plunging neckline. She had on opera length black gloves and somehow projected sex, class, and authority all at the same time.
“Damn, girl!” Cal said. “Look at you!”
Elektra smiled and did a little spin. “I have to say, that girl Amber of yours is a genius. Mr. Sanders is going to have a heart attack when he sees this!”
“What do you think of Liz?” asked Cal.
Liz suddenly felt shy, but did a careful spin for Elektra.
“Hmmm,” she said, appraisingly. “I think if we covered her in whipped cream, we’d even have the homos standing at attention!”
Liz almost forgot to laugh because she was too surprised. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” she said.
Zeke traveled down a corridor to a side entrance of the press conference room. The campaign hadn’t given any details on the conference, but they had requested male correspondents by name. The room was full of frustrated male energy.
Zeke slipped into the edge of the crowd where he had a good view of the stage. The people with these seats didn’t know who he was, so he could watch with relative anonymity.
The stage was set up with a short row of chairs and a podium with a jumbo-tron screen set up behind. There was a plant or two in front of a blue curtain. It looked as boring and official as could be.
“I tried to get out of this assignment,” Zeke heard one reporter tell another. “I hate this bitch with every inch of me.”
“I hear ya,” said his friend. “My girlfriend cut me off a month ago, and me and righty just don’t get along the way we used to.”
“What’s worse is that my cable is broke.”
“Hey, mine, too! None of the pay-per-view comes in right.”
“Yeah, none of my premium channels have any good stuff on at night. I’m going through porn withdrawal.”
Zeke grinned privately. The bribes to the cable companies and premium channels had been his idea. It just took a couple key people to lean on a switch or two, and suddenly there was no soft-core porn on television.
“You know, I wonder if there isn’t a conspiracy. ‘Cause I can’t get my porn sites to load anymore, either.”
“Mine, either!” The reporters looked at each other and began scribbling notes.
Zeke hadn’t heard about any plans to curb Internet porn, but he’d take credit for it if anyone asked. He just didn’t think it was possible. He suspected these two idiots just didn’t know how to optimize their downloads. Or their significant others had wiped the caches clean on their browsers. Zeke made a mental note to post directions on how to do that to the campaign blog.
Music swelled and the crowd shifted its attention to the stage. Cal’s voice announced over the loudspeaker, “And now, ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Elizabeth Stratton, Elektra Sampson and introducing the WAP drill team!”
The crowd clapped until Liz and Elektra strode onto the stage in all their glimmery sexiness, waving and smiling just as any politician would, only with much less on. The clapping staggered and fell over like a surprised drunk. The sight of Liz’s long, lean body in the shiny golden suit was enough to make Zeke’s pants a little tighter, even though he’d seen her just hours ago padding around in satin pajamas. That thought made his pants tight enough that he had to shift a little.
The crowd continued to clap in confusion as the “drill team” made its entrance. They bussed the girls in from a Vegas show, which had allowed them to use their costumes for the event. The stage was filled with girls, feathers, and sequins, but not much else. It took about three seconds for the crowd to recover from this shock and show its enthusiastic appreciation.
“Holy shit!” Zeke heard the reporter say to his friend. “I’m going to have to write my editor a thank-you note!”
“Hell, yeah,” his friend said. “This is more T and A than I’ve seen in a month!”
Every man in the room was whooping with joy at the sight, and it took Liz a good long time to calm them down enough that she could talk. “So, you like my ‘drill team’?” she asked, which renewed the cheering. “You all should see their routine sometime.”
“Now that I have your attention,” Liz began, but a cry of “Take it off!” pleaded from the front of the room.
“Not yet, eager beaver,” Liz said coyly. “Be patient. We have some things to talk about first.”
This was the cue for the lights to dim and the jumbo-tron to switch on. As Liz began to speak about ending the war and the draft, a classic stag film flickered above her head with the sound off. The showgirls moved slowly behind her, striking poses as they made a stately march back and forth. The crowd was enraptured.
“Gentlemen and ladies,” Liz said. “As you can see, there is so much more to life than fighting and winning. There is love and sex. In order to attain peace, each side must concede something, must sacrifice.
“In order to gain peace, my supporters have sacrificed sex.” She gestured to the film, which showed two people having enthusiastic relations. “Look at that. Look at what we’re willing to live without while the war goes on.” She looked up at the screen. “I don’t know about you guys, but I really, really miss that. Don’t you?” The crowd roared. “Wouldn’t you all like that to happen again? I sure would. Don’t you want to know how we can all start doing that again?”
When the cheering and jeering quieted, Liz went on. “In order to gain peace, this country is going to have to concede some things to Mesopotamianstan that we won’t like. Such as promising to keep our fingers out of their oil fields and not interfering with the natural order of their government. That’s going to be very difficult for us to do because we like oil, and we seem to think that everyone would be happier in a democracy. We’re democracy missionaries, and it’s made us the unwelcome neighbor who pushes his “religion” onto others of the world.
“That’s not to say that Mesopotamianstan won’t have to concede some things, too. They’ll have to promise to nip terrorism in the bud and to follow basic human rights conventions used by the rest of the world. They won’t want to, but in a compromise, no one leaves completely happy.”
At this point, the showgirls began to descend the stairs and mingle with the audience. They glided up the aisles smiling at the men and stopping to give kisses and have their pictures taken.
But Liz continued to speak. “Aren’t they nice, boys? Wouldn’t you give anything to have them available again? Or any woman?” There was a general rumbling of assent. “Well, you know what to do, gentlemen and ladies of the press. Tell the world what must be done to end the sex strike. End the war. Tell the world how we can do it so that it will be done! We can close this door on history and open other doors at the same time. Thank you!”
Pandemonium would have broken out had they not had so many security personnel. The men were straining to have some contact with the showgirls who were patient and obliging. “Look but don’t touch” rules were enforced. The crowd hung around for ninety minutes after Liz and Elektra left the stage, and the girls were good and tired when they got back to the dressing room, but all went peacefully enough.
Liz took them all out to dinner that night at a local Japanese restaurant. Without their feathers and glitter, the girls looked thin but average; their sex-goddess appeal lay in their costumes more for some than others, but Liz was glad to see that they were just regular girls underneath. Since they had all volunteered their time and the show had donated the use of the costumes, as stunts went, this one had been cheap.
After dinner, the staff and showgirls commandeered the big-screen television in the lounge of the hotel to watch the news. It was the first time most of the girls had been on national television, so all of them hovered by the television waiting for Stone Phillips to appear. They knew that they were going to be the lead story just by looking at him.
Stone struggled to keep his normally placid face from twisting into a wry grin as he introduced the story. “This unusual Presidential race took another...interesting turn today,” he began, lip twitching. “Elizabeth Stratton and her running mate Elektra Sampson took to the stage of a press conference wearing provocative outfits and flanked by...supporters in very ornate dress. I must warn you, this clip may offend some viewers.”
Liz couldn’t have asked for better footage. Although the stag film was understandably blurred out, the television screen was filled with tits and ass and feathers galore. The editors at the news program had tried to do her speech justice, but the footage was so provocative that Liz even had trouble concentrating on her own words. She was very pleased with how good she looked in her outfit, too.
Stone Phillips reappeared on the screen, still struggling to keep a serious face. “We have with us three commentators to help us understand this press conference.”
“Here come the pundits,” whispered Cal, squeezing Liz’s hand.
“First is conservative think-tank leader Reverend Mitchell Mennen.” The bearded pundit appeared on screen.
“One guess what his position will be,” said Zeke.
“Missionary, I’d guess,” giggled Cal.
“Next is Gretchen Lund, Political Advisor to Senator Mary Kelly during her successful Congressional race.” A prim woman in her forties appeared, hair in a bun.
“I’m curious about what she’ll say,” said Liz.
“And finally, Dr. Marjorie Green of the Women’s Studies Department at Mt. Holyoke College.” Both women gasped.
She hadn’t aged much in the fifteen years since they had taken women’s studies from her in college. Her long grey hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail and her granny glasses rested on the bridge of her nose. She wore her customary flowing cotton dress with a tailored suit jacket over top. Cal had had lunch with her a couple years back...as president of WAP, she was in contact with many Women’s Studies departments. Liz hadn’t had nay contact with Dr. Green since she graduated, but she remembered the highly intellectual professor very clearly.
“I think I’m going to die of shame on this spot,” she moaned.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that bad,” said Cal, but the color had drained from her face and she gripped Liz’s hand harder.
Stone began the commentary with the Reverend Mennen, who, naturally, took a dim view to their shenanigans. “Stone, I was outraged to see this behavior from a serious contender for the highest office in the land. Such puerile tactics are better suited to...well, I can’t think of a single instance where they would be appropriate. Displaying themselves like that, like commodities, it was just sickening.”
“Don’t you think they were trying to make a point about....” Stone began.
“I don’t care what her point was, I was too offended to care what the devil they were talking about,” huffed the Reverend.
“Looks like his wife is striking, too,” said Cal, clearly enjoying herself.
“Ms. Lund? What do you think of tonight’s spectacle?”
“Well,” said Ms. Lund in her straightforward suit and Washington-sized pearls. “I don’t know if I would have suggested to Ms. Stratton to appear like this so close to the election, if ever. I am very concerned about her credibility eroding, and I wonder if this stunt hasn’t lost her the vote of every man in the country. I mean, she is antagonizing half of the voting population.”
“Dr. Green?” Liz and Cal leaned in and squeezed their hands. “How do you interpret tonight’s event?”
Dr. Green smiled at Stone Phillips charmingly. “Stone, this is a turning point in this campaign. This may affect the way all campaigns in the future are run. Here is what has happened: Stratton and Sampson are responding to the negative ads and dirty politics of the Democrats and Republicans. These campaigns have been especially nasty in the last weeks, insinuating all sorts of things about the WAP candidates and flat-out stating that neither of them is fit for office. Instead of responding in kind, the WAP campaign has re-invigorated its position of representing women by showing in gaudy glory the power that women everywhere have. Instead of trying to convince us that Ostrem is in the back pocket of the oil companies, or that Beckinger is a puppet to the union bosses, Stratton and Sampson have shown us that they are perfectly in command of one of the true powers women have: sex. Their efforts with the sex strike have propelled the peace process faster than any other impetus. Any thinking person will see that women who have the kind of power that Liz and Elektra do are the kind of people we want in office.”
“That’s ridiculous,” huffed the Reverend Mennen through his fluffy beard. “What are they going to do about Iran? Show up to a nuke negotiation in Wonderbras and three-inch heels?”
Dr. Green laughed. “If they thought it would be effective, they might, Reverend. The point is that they are open to all of the negotiation options open to women, even those traditionally taboo. The paradigm has shifted. Women can use sexuality as a tool of negotiation. If the men can play dirty pool in the political arena, so can women.”
“Doesn’t that put men at a disadvantage, Marjorie?” asked Gretchen. “I mean, when Senator Clinton got choked up in 2008, it was suggested that she was faked crying and it hurt her in the polls because it was seen as a tool men couldn’t use, giving her an unfair advantage.”
“Gretchen, Beckinger and Ostrem drew the line in the sand with their behavior. I don’t lose any sleep over their being at a disadvantage.”
“Do you have anything to add, Reverend?” asked Stone.
The Reverend had been turning purple and huffing like a steam train in his little box in the corner. He blew like a locomotive when Stone addressed him, but he was so angry that he could only spit out single words. “Lewd. Disgusting. Display. Female. Parts. Unseemly. Sinful!” he cried at the top of his crescendo.
“Thank you all for your comments,” Stone said in conclusion and then moved on to the other, far more boring, stories of the day.
A cheer went up in the hotel lounge, and Liz and Cal began to breath again.
“I have to write Dr. Green a thank-you note,” said Liz.
“Better yet, give her a cabinet position,” said Cal. “She deserves something juicy like Secretary of State or Chief of Staff.”
“Do you think she remembers us?” Liz asked, sipping her Manhattan thoughtfully.
“Well, she remembered me with a little jog of her memory when we had lunch at the WAP conference last year,” said Cal. “I’m sure someone at MHC has figured out who you are. The Alumnae Association doesn’t miss much. Neither does the student newspaper.”
“That would be a fun stop on the campaign,” said Liz. “I haven’t been back, not even for a reunion.”
Cal grinned. “That can be arranged.”
October in central Massachusetts is a picture-postcard with a brisk breeze. The air was crisp, the water sparkled, and the leaves set the trees aflame. Bits of fire, little leaf-embers, floated down from the canopy of the grand maples and elms of the old women’s college campus. Liz and Cal snuck off the bus as soon as they pulled in wearing jeans and old MHC hooded sweatshirts and took a walk around the grand brick buildings of their alma mater. They would have gone more slowly but they wanted to stay ahead of the Secret Service detail that was not nearly as discrete as it thought it was.
“Wow, it feels so natural to be back here,” Liz said. “I feel like we’re just hurrying to class, trying to beat the bell.”
Cal smiled. “I don’t feel that young, but I know what you mean.” She pointed at a building in the distance. “There’s Wilder. Let’s go visit our old room.”
They stood by the door of the squat dormitory with its Dutch gables waiting for someone to let them in. Finally, a student appeared with a key.
“Hi,” said Cal. “We’re alums. Could you let us in so we can see our old room?”
The student eyed them, looking at their old sweatshirts carefully. “Sing a verse of the school song,” she challenged them.
Liz grinned. “Nobody sings that,” she said. “We only ever sang the alternate version:
“Oh, Mount Holyoke, we pay thee tuition,
In the fervor of youth that's gone wrong,
Each year it gets higher and higher,
My God, alma mater, how long?”
Cal joined in here:
“So from barroom to bedroom we stagger,
And united in free love for all,
Our drinks are too strong and our morals gone,
Mount Holyoke what's happening to me?
Mount Holyoke what's happening to me?”
The student grinned and held the door open for them.
“Welcome home, ladies,” she said. They ducked in before the Secret Service guys could follow; they stood outside sulking.
The dorm had been given yet another coat of paint, yet she knew the clanking radiators would flake and peel by winter’s end. Dark overstuffed furniture lined the walls of the parlor they stood in, and Liz could smell dinner cooking in the kitchen. A young woman sat at the bell desk, reading a thick text. She looked up at them and asked, “Can I call someone for you?”
“Oh, we’re alums,” said Cal. “We wondered if we could go up to the second floor and see our old room?”
The girl looked at them more closely. A smile leapt to her face as she recognized them. “Liz? Cal? Is it really you?”
“Shh,” said Liz. “We’re incognito.” She plucked at her sweatshirt.
“We’ll get you and the girls in our room backstage tonight if we can go in and see the room without causing a huge stir,” Cal bargained.
“No sweat,” said the girl picking up the phone. “Lemme see if they’re in.”
A moment later, Liz and Cal met Trisha and Robin, the current residents of 201 Wilder Hall. They stepped in to the corner room, which boasted two windows and a view of the green and the student center.
“I used to sit on my bed here and watch the whole world go by,” said Liz, pointing to a window facing east.
Robin bounced in glee. “That’s my bed! Liz Stratton slept in my bed!”
Trisha was equally star-struck with Cal. “What did you major in, Ms. Talmadge?” she asked shyly.
“Boys, mostly,” Cal answered with a wicked grin. “Then that subject got too hard, so I switched to Women’s Studies.”
“Did you see Dr. Green on the TV last week?” asked Robin.
Liz and Cal looked at each other. “Yes we did. She’s the reason we’re here. We’re going to see her next.”
“She’s my hero...and so are you,” said Trisha to the both of them.
“She’s probably the main reason we are where we are today,” said Cal. “She inspired us when we took her class.”
“Really?” Robin and Trisha were wide-eyed. “She was teaching here when you were here?”
“It wasn’t that long ago,” said Liz who had suddenly grown weary of talking to nineteen-year-olds. They were worse than twenty-five-year-olds.
“Were we that...chipper when we were nineteen?” asked Cal once they’d left the dorm. The Secret Service was following much more closely now, but they didn’t care.
The crisp air made Liz feel giddy. “I think we might have been worse, honey,” she said. “Let’s go find Dr. Green. I want to thank her for the other night.”
They marched past the student union and past the lakes on the way to the tall old building that housed the Humanities. Dr. Green’s office was exactly where it had been fifteen years ago, but she wasn’t there. The excited department secretary told them she was teaching a class down the hall, so they went to wait by the door until class was over.
The door was open, so Liz and Cal slipped into the back of the lecture room and stood behind the last row of seats. Dr. Green was leading a discussion about women and politics, answering a question posed by a student: why aren’t there more female politicians?
“Women are underrepresented in politics for the same reasons they are underrepresented in all professions: first, they have children and are expected to be the primary caregivers; next, they have been conditioned to think that competing with men in the professions is unseemly.” At this point she looked up and saw Liz and Cal at the back of the room. “Oh, my,” she said. “It seems we’ve attracted a couple of visitors. Class, may I present former students Liz Stratton and Cal Talmadge!”
Forty heads swung around and then the class cheered for them as they walked to the front of the class.
“I’m sorry for just dropping in, Dr. Green,” Liz said. “We just wanted to stop in and say ‘hi.’ The secretary suggested we come by your classroom.”
“I think it’s wonderful that you’ve come to see all of us,” Dr. Green said. “These ladies have oodles of questions for you, I’m sure, and I’m happy to devote the rest of the class time to you.”
Official faculty events could actually be fun, Cal decided, if you were faculty. She watched tables of them chatting with each other, cliquishly sitting at tables divided by mostly by department. Tablecloths and cloth napkins notwithstanding, this was just like any other school cafeteria.
She and Liz were circulating, shaking hands and schmoozing in general. They were both good at this; they smiled and hovered and chatted lightly and talked seriously, depending on what the current audience demanded. The faculty were flattered to meet Liz, but most were intelligent enough to have serious questions, too. They also got endless razzing about being alumnae. It was hard work that took all of Cal’s concentration.
Almost all of her concentration, anyway. Most of the evening, she had been half aware of someone watching her. This wasn’t unlikely as she and Liz were the stars of the evening, but something was different about this pair of eyes that made the back of her neck itch in a peculiar way. She tried to surreptitiously glance around to locate the source, but she couldn’t focus long enough to find it.
Eventually, the two women got to the table that held the source of Cal’s itch. A pair of cool brown eyes latched onto hers as she and Liz approached a table of English faculty. The intensity in those eyes made Cal’s breath catch in her throat and she coughed.
“Hello!” Liz said, placing her hands on the backs of two chairs. The old men occupying them smiled up at her. “Is everyone having a good time?”
Cal went to stand next to her friend amidst a chorus of “Oh, yes-es,” and smiled at everyone at the table. “Liz will answer questions, if you have any,” she said, as she had to every table, but she was staring at the bespectacled man with the brown eyes.
He was in his late thirties, with one of those not-tall-but-perfectly-proportioned bodies that some men under 5’ 9” possess. He looked far too athletic to be an academic, and too smart to be a jock. His mop of dark, loose curls gave him a boyish look, but the way he locked her with his gaze was not at all childish. She wished suddenly that he had been her teacher.
“I have a question,” he said. “I’m Dr. Nicolas Brown, Poetry and English Literature in Translation. Whom would you appoint as Poet Laureate?”
Liz thought a moment. “Fantasy or living?”
“I like the fantasy idea,” Dr. Brown answered. “How about both?”
“Let’s see...I think Plath as my fantasy Poet Laureate and, living...I don’t know. What are you doing for the next four years?” The table chuckled. “Honestly, I’d have to appoint a council to pick one. I haven’t been keeping up with modern poets. I’d hate to pick someone based on what Oprah says, although she’s a dear friend and I owe her so much.”
There were other questions, and Cal tried to pay attention, but her gaze kept going back to Dr. Nicolas Brown’s. She determined that there was no ring on his left hand, and that she liked his hands a lot. The fingers were not long and looked powerful, like baker’s hands that kneaded lots of bread. She tore herself away when it was time to move on to the next table, but she couldn’t help throwing a glance over her shoulder. He was watching her and caught her glance. He smiled.
The dinner wrapped up so that they had just enough time to get everyone over to the auditorium for the rally. Liz, Cal, and the entourage walked out of the building chatting and in high spirits, and Cal didn’t even notice the English professor standing by the door as she passed it. But she did feel his gaze on the back of her neck, so she stopped and turned around.
“Hello, Dr. Brown” she said.
“Hello, Ms. Talmadge,” he said. “Please call me Nicolas.” He held out his gloved hand and Cal took it, cursing the snap in the air.
“Call me Cal,” she said. “Are you coming to the rally?”
“Yes. May I walk with you?”
“Of course,” Cal said. “Chapin Auditorium hasn’t moved since I was here last, has it?”
“Naw,” he said. “The dorms get shuffled every decade or so just to keep the students on their toes, but the main buildings stay pretty much as they are.”
They were quiet a moment as they had to negotiate a press of people crossing the bridge to the main part of the campus. The October leaves on the maple trees were barely hanging on, and the creek below was littered with a thin crust of red and gold. A pair of ducks and an impossibly large trout watched the crowd negotiate the bridge. Cal sighed appreciatively.
“I forgot how pretty it is here in the fall,” she said.
“Yes, it’s my favorite season,” Nicolas said. “And this campus is probably the prettiest I’ve ever been to.”
“I remember one day I was so overwhelmed by mid-terms that I just struck out on a walk. I walked around the perimeter of the whole campus, golf course and stables included.”
“That must have taken all day,” Nicolas said.
“Nearly. I was so energized by the end that I studied for hours afterwards.” She grinned at the memory, and then looked at Nicolas. “That was a while ago, I guess.”
“I was a student once, too,” he said. “I don’t have quite the nostalgia for University of Florida that you do for MHC, but I understand.”
They had been walking ever so slightly slower than the group, and now they had a modicum of privacy. Cal found herself blushing for no reason. Then she felt his hand on her elbow pull her to a stop.
“Cal, I don’t normally do this, correct me if I’m wrong, dammit,” Nicolas stammered for words. “Is there something here?”
“Here?” Cal said weakly.
“You know. I’m feeling...I don’t know...is this chemistry I feel? Here? Between us?”
Cal broke into a big smile. “Perhaps,” she said.
“But you feel it, too?”
“Yes. I do,” Cal admitted. “It seemed wrong to point it out. Silly, huh?”
“How about if I ask you for a drink after the...what is this? A ‘show’? Anyway, a drink after?”
“Yes, okay,” said Cal. “Meet me outside the door we just came out of at ten.”
“Done,” Nicolas said. “Until then, we have this very long walk to the auditorium to enjoy.” He slid her arm through his and they walked the rest of the way across campus just like that, unnoticed.
The noise coming from the auditorium had the particular high-pitched hum that only a huge group of young women has. Women from two women’s colleges plus plenty of co-eds from other local colleges packed Skinner Hall, chattering with excitement. Liz could feel the pulsing hormones wafting through the curtain. She wondered how well the young ladies out there were abstaining.
She whispered to Cal, “Do you think we’d have been able to give up sex for a whole campaign when we were 20?”
Cal grinned her wicked grin. “Maybe. But not when I was 21.”
Liz smiled back. “I remember Rory. I don’t blame you.” She looked out over the crowd again. “What do you think about them?”
“They look pretty determined,” she said. “I wouldn’t put it past them. They’re capable of anything. Remind them of that.”
Liz parted the curtain and a moment later the auditorium was filled with glee-filled screams of young-adult females.
“All right, enough,” Liz said finally. “It’s not like I’m one of the Beatles or Duran Duran.
“I want to do something a little different tonight. Normally, I’d stand up here and pontificate, listing our platform ideas and hyping you up. Instead, I want questions from you. I’ll answer them to the best of my ability, and I’ll tell you honestly when I can’t answer a question and why. Does that sound good?”
“Yes!” came the answer.
“Great. There’s the microphone in front of the stage. Form a nice line and go to town!”
There was some rustling as a spot was turned on to the mike and an orderly line formed. The first woman at the microphone was typical from her sweatshirt to her flip-flops.
“Ms. Stratton,” she said. “My name is Lauren Bierce. I’m unclear on how not having sex with my boyfriend is going to stop the war in Mesopotamianstan. Could you explain?”
Liz smiled. “Wow. We didn’t waste any time getting to the issue, did we? Okay, it works like a union. Unions work to improve working conditions for its members by stopping work, right? All of the workers stop even if the things the union wants changed doesn’t affect them. So, for example, let’s say at an envelope factory, the folders work 15-hour shifts, but the gluers only work 8-hour shifts. In order to get 8-hour shifts for the folders, the gluers stop working, too, even though they already have that kind of shift. They do it because they know that if they need support in the future, the folders will help.
“So, to our situation. I know that your boyfriend probably has little individual power to stop a foreign war. However, if he were to band together with all of his friends and they all went to their fathers who went to their bosses, well, you get the idea. It won’t take long before the people at the top feel the pressure, not only of their own needs, but also of those of the people they represent. So, tell your boyfriend that if he wants to see your delicates again, he needs to do his part and start pressuring the people he knows to do something about ending the war, just like you are.”
The next person in line looked older than a typical student. “Ms. Stratton,” she said. “Don’t you think that this sex strike is a silly diversion to the campaign? Shouldn’t you be focusing on trying to get into the White House instead?”
“Well,” Liz sighed. “I do admit that this campaign has taken a riskier track than I thought it would when I began. However, when I began, WAP was little more than an outside irritant to the Democrats and the Republicans. But last week we polled at an astounding 34%! Think about that. That means that one in three people are thinking of voting for us. Registered Democrats and Republicans and Independents have said they’d vote for us. Before the sex strike, WAP polled at something like 2%. So, to answer your question, no, I don’t think the sex strike is a silly diversion. I think it is a legitimate way to make our concerns take center stage. So even if we don’t get to the White House our concerns are front and center because the strike doesn’t have to end on the first Tuesday in November. We can hold out until the war is over. Can’t we?”
The crowd broke out into applause.
Zeke rubbed Liz’s feet in their room at the small hotel on campus. The rally had gone on much later than even Liz had estimated. The questions had kept coming, and she had worked really hard to answer each one honestly. She had been spectacular, but she was completely worn out and looked somewhat deflated in her satin pajamas.
“You looked like you were having fun out there,” Zeke said as he squeezed her left heel.
“Oh, it was a blast. The whole day was wonderful,” she said, her head propped up against the headboard. She grunted, “That’s wonderful. Please don’t stop.”
“As you wish.”
“I had forgotten what a wonderful place this is,” Liz said, staring at the ceiling. “If we’re elected, we should do something to charter more women’s colleges or something.”
“That would be fun,” Zeke said, moving on to her arch.
“Yeah.” Then Liz groaned as Zeke pressed his thumbs into the ball of her foot. “That’s the spot. Jesus, that feels nice.”
Zeke laughed and shushed her. “You sound like you are having too much fun,” he said. “You don’t want any rumors flying around just because of a foot rub.”
She laughed, too. “You’re right. I’ll be quiet as a churchmouse. Squeak! Squeak!”
They laughed a bit, and then Liz relaxed into the pillows with a sigh. “You’re too good to me, Zeke,” she murmured.
“I know,” Zeke said, and moved on to her other foot.
He continued to work the foot for a while. When he was done, he set her foot down on the bedspread but left his hand on it as he looked up at her face. She was smiling, and possibly dozing. Without thinking, Zeke slid his fingers slowly up her foot to her ankle, and then pulled them back down, caressing her. Liz didn’t react, so he did it again. Slowly trace fingers up, slowly drag them down. Zeke didn’t breathe.
Zeke closed his eyes and let his fingers trace their way up her calf under her pajama leg to the soft spot behind her knee and back again. She sighed and moved a little, so he did it again, so slowly.
Liz started and sat up. She met Zeke’s eyes and held him there with her stare. He couldn’t stand it and looked away, pulling his hands into his lap.
“Oh, Zeke,” she said softly and put her hand over his.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can be out of here in five seconds.” He tried to pull away, but Liz held his hand fast. He looked up at her.
“How long have you felt this way?” she asked.
“Oh, probably since that first lunch in Arizona,” he said.
“So, all those times you asked me to dinner?”
“I hoped each time you’d say ‘yes,’” he admitted. “Liz, let go. Let me go.”
Liz bit her lip. “No,” she said, “Dammit. You’ve got a helluva sense of timing.”
“Really?” Zeke took her hands in his. “Really, Liz? You could, we could...really?”
“Well, we can’t now, Zeke,” she said. “We can’t risk a scandal. You just said so five minutes ago.”
“Liz, I can hold out if I can hope. Shit. I’ve wanted you for ten years. I can wait a bit, if you’ll just tell me you’ll give me a chance.”
“Of course,” she said. Then, after a moment, “Why did you wait until now, Zeke?”
Zeke laughed sadly. “Liz, I’ve asked you to dinner every day for ten years. How is that waiting?”
“I’m sorry to have put you through that,” Liz said. “Let me make it up to you.” She pulled herself to her knees and kissed him.
Zeke smiled. “I thought we couldn’t do this.”
Liz said, “Silly, it’s a sex strike. No one said anything about kissing.” She kissed him again. “You are going to have to find another place to sleep tonight, though.”
“No problem. Kiss me again, and I’ll do anything you ask.”
About the Author
Maren Bradley Anderson is a writer, teacher, podcaster, blogger, and alpaca rancher who lives in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. She has written short stories and plays for years, and has recently taken to writing screenplays and novels. She teaches live and online classes on literature and writing at Western Oregon University. She has Master’s Degrees in both Literature and Teaching Writing from Humboldt State University and a B.A. in English and Studio Art from Mount Holyoke College. Maren hosts a podcast about alpacas (Paca Talk) with her husband, and blogs about alpacas and writing. Her alpacas win ribbons for conformation and fleece, plus she thinks they are darned cute.
Connect with me online!
Twitter – http://twitter.com/#marenster
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/
Writing Blog – http://closingthestore.blogspot.com
Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Marenster