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I work for a university.
I’m finishing my PhD thesis in History (documentary evidence and textual accounts of the emergence of the common law in the eleventh century, since you ask) but I don’t have funding for my research. Not surprising really. Legal history isn’t fashionable, but my department don’t want to lose me entirely. So I spend my working day as the Schools Liaison Officer. Mostly that means I arrange open days, and visits from local kids who want to go to a small, old fashioned, Northern university. By night I try and make sense of my thesis.
For about three months of the year though I travel round the conferences institutions put on so that kids can go to a sports hall and collect hundreds of prospectuses. Honestly, it’s a mind numbing practice. The kids arrive by the bus load, and spend as little time making their mind up about uni as possible, and as much time as possible trying to do something illicit. Since most of the events are on university campuses or in sports centres that usually revolves around bars…
I take an assistant with me, a student who’ll man the stall while I’m having a comfort break or talking to other liaison officers about how pointless we think the conferences are. There’s a lot of that.
I usually take a student from one of the science departments; I haven’t a clue about science, and someone has to deal with the over enthusiastic teenagers, usually male, who have spent too long with advanced level maths and not enough time with personal hygiene or social skills.
So when I looked at my itinerary and saw that I had Joss Phelps with me I imagined another bloke in a ‘System of a Down’ tee-shirt. I can’t help it. I’m a historian. We try to learn from the past, and in the past that’s the kind of student I’ve had to work with.
So, here’s the inventory of Joss Phelps on Sunday afternoon. No ‘System of a Down’ teeshirt. No cheap trainers (scuffed) or dress shoes with worn down heels and a plasticky look. No bad haircut gelled into place. No spots, no bad breath, no underarm sweat patches (always a no no when facing a three hour car journey), and no Terry Pratchett books.
Long black hair down between her shoulder blades. Jet earrings in silver mounts, plus a silver cuff in a celtic motif high on the curve of her left ear. An ivory high necked blouse in a Victorian style with a pleated front. Good skin under a light application of makeup that accentuated its paleness. Heavy red gloss lipstick. A long skirt, charcoal gray, with lace trim to the hem that reached midcalf, and what looked like knee high lace up boots, with substantial heels. Probably about five foot seven without the heels; long legged. Eye catching curves, both to her breasts and her behind.
Anyone who calls their daughter Jocelyn perhaps shouldn’t be surprised if she turns out to be a little bit of an individualist. Joss didn’t look like the average science student. I’d seen her round campus occasionally; she had the kind of looks you tended to remember. I’d assumed she would be an expert on Gothic novels, or Victorian perspectives on gender studies.
I’d wanted a scientist; I’d got someone doing a B.Sc in Archaeology, who spent the next two and a half hours on the A1 south explaining dating techniques to me. That’s dating as in the dating of artefacts. Carbon 14 half lifes, tree rings, techniques of stone carving as evidence of tools used, the chemical analysis of paper and non destructive testing of fibres, I could have written a plausible essay on the subject myself by the time we arrived in Brentford. Not just the simple stuff that anyone who’s ever wanted to be sure an old manuscript was genuine might want to know, but details of statistical analyses that prove the theories work, and fascinating facts about chemical analyses of iron, to name just two.
Why Brentford? A cheap hotel and easy access to the university campus in Uxbridge, that’s why. Three days there, then two in the midlands. She’d brought enough clothes for a week of meeting and greeting the public, but still, her bag turned out to be heavier than I thought. Books apparently. Books and a laptop. Kind of a matching situation. I’d brought books and a laptop as well. I didn’t have a copy of Vogue in my bag, which she admitted to with a half smile, as if an intelligent woman shouldn’t be into glamour, but then she didn’t have Personal Computer World in her bag.
The hotel was owned by a brewery, and laid out in 70s motel style; main building with reception, restaurant and bar, rooms in a low rise range of buildings opposite. The usual routine; check in, get bags to room, unpack, then settle down to writing, and re-writing, a portion of the thesis. Travelling makes me determined. I don’t want to be making my way round cheap hotels when I’m forty. I will finish the thesis, get tenure, write the second book (public order in fourteenth century England), and become a fixture in the history gaziantep escortları department. It makes for strong, driven writing. Doesn’t do much for the social skills.
Next morning was bright and full of promise, the way May mornings can be when we haven’t lost our optimism to the unexpected showers of June and July. The BBC weatherman was full of reassurance about there being no clouds in the sky. I decided to ignore experience, and go with the prediction; short sleeved shirt, loafers, pale grey trousers.
Over breakfast it was obvious Joss had watched and believed the same forecast. She’d stuck with the Victorian theme though. Another high necked blouse, with a lace trim to the front, like a 70s comedian’s dress shirt. An ankle length white skirt, in heavy cotton, over a petticoat with the lace trim showing. Ankle boots this time, white, with square heels that still added two and a half inches to her height. Amber and silver bracelets on both wrists, and her hair pulled back by a white leather barette.
The short sleeves of the blouse, gathered around her upper arm, gave away that she had quite some muscle tone. As we walked to breakfast she talked about having been for a jog that morning. I managed more small talk than I usually do. That set the pattern for the next two days. Small talk, banter, interruptions from students who really believed that their volunteer work with the elderly should get them into our law school when their grades wouldn’t….
Oh, and lust. From me, towards her. Not instant lust. Not the kind of immediate hot flush that makes you think that you won’t be responsible for your actions. Not the breathless desire for stimulation now, for contact, for someone, anyone, even me to grab hold of my cock and stroke it. This was a slower kind of lust, a desire to see Joss Phelps naked, to see her aroused, to find out what made her tick. I wanted to see those long legs without a skirt covering most of them, and to see where they met…
You see a lot of attractive young women at student fairs. They’re dressed up, having a day away from school. You see bare midriffs, cleavage, lots of thigh. I usually ignore all of it. They’re not women, they’re customers. But Joss Phelps? I was imagining her naked from mid afternoon on the first day, disrobing her with my eyes. The shape and size of her nipples; the colour and texture of her pubic hair – would she have trimmed it away, or let it grow? Would she have flawless skin, or a mole somewhere to indicate that she wasn’t quite perfect? How much would her breasts change shape without a bra around them?
There are lots of ways my bosses can check up on what I’ve done at each fair. The forms I hand out have source codes on them. They can ask the institutions hosting the events if we were there. Colleagues gossip about who spends hours in the bar, who chats up the would be students inappropriately, and who leaves their stand unattended.
I like to take home a picture of each fair, of myself, the student assistant and the stand. It’s proof that I’ve existed. I work in a field of study where barely a tenth of one percent of all the records that might help me have survived. Joss understood the urge to make records, in the hope that someone remembers, or thinks there’s a point to remembering. We chatted about it Tuesday evening, before going back to our respective rooms to our laptops and books, and, in my case, to surprised masturbation over the mental image of a woman I barely knew.
She managed to surprise me again on Wednesday morning. The first short skirt of the week, a knee length kilt design, complete with a brooch that combined jet and amber on a gold mount to pin it together at the side, just above her left knee. Lace up boots again, almost meeting the skirt, but with a sharper, spikier heel, so that she was just below my height, and a black, sleeveless, fitted top. I was glad I’d worn my suit for the photo. An old Paul Smith, but a Paul Smith suit all the same. Shoes by Pierre Cardin. Pale blue striped shirt, a rip off of a Hackett design, and matching tie. A colleague took the photos with my camera, before I repeated the favour for him.
Something changed with her in that outfit. For the first time she seemed conscious of how she looked. She seemed conscious of the way young men stayed at the stand a little longer than was necessary. I was conscious of her every movement. I took refuge in the camera. Snapping pics of her talking to students. Formal straight portraits of her in front of the stand. An informal head and shoulders picture of her framed by the spotlights at the back of the stand.
She found it amusing, started to look over her shoulder as if preparing a pose in case the camera was pointing at her. We’d spent two days working together, but suddenly I was getting a glimpse of something more human about her than anything I’d seen previously. Teasing her helped. ‘Think Madonna; think Vogue’ made her smile; apparently Goths weren’t supposed to admit to a taste for mid period Madonna. But it made her smile, and using the camera provoked more smiles. Wet lipped (yes, yes, I know, it’s obviously Freudian, but I am talking about her mouth, and the slash of red lipstick), exuberant smiles.
At twelve thirty the tannoy boomed out the welcome news that the doors were closing. Time to dismantle the stand, pack it into its box, and head for the midlands. So all the leaflets have to go back into their boxes, all the names and forms collected have to be filed.
The stand is fully portable, a curved backdrop on a demountable frame that allows us to use the space behind it as storage. That’s where Joss was crouched down, pushing leaflets into a box. Crouched on her toes, her buttocks almost skimming the floor, her skirt in disarray so that I could see the lace tops of her stockings and a crescent of thigh, pale and stark in contrast to the black of her clothes. I put my hands up, level with my shoulders.
“Look, no camera…”
She knew what I meant, rocked for a moment onto her heels, didn’t look down at her skirt or her legs.
“I can’t hold this pose for ever while you get it. You’ll have to wait for another chance.” I made a point of going to get the camera, but we carried on working, packing boxes, dismantling lights…
I caught a glimpse of thigh again as she sat down on a chair to wind a cable round an extension block. It was another private, dangerous moment. She saw me looking, saw me raising the camera, ignored the noise around us, the other liaison officers doing the same tasks as us, and held her pose on the chair, legs crossed, thigh uncovered, not just while I pictured her from the side, but while I walked to the front of her and took a photo from that angle. Once she’d finished she stood up gracefully, and dropped the extension cable into a box. Cool, sexy, in charge. Not a word between us, just a confident smile on her face, and a slightly perplexed smile on mine.
I didn’t feel as if I could keep the camera joke up for ever, couldn’t hide behind it all the time, but she seemed happy with its presence. To tell the truth I wasn’t sure if she was driving the game, or I was. If I put the camera down would she be disappointed?
And of course there were constraints of time, colleagues moving round, trolleys squeaking on the floor of the hall. Opportunist voyeurism on my part? Or risky exhibitionism on hers? I took some more pics of her unexposed, just moving and turning, trying to let the light from the flash capture the textures of her hair.
Once the stand was dismantled there was no shelter, no space where we couldn’t be observed. So everything went onto the folding trolley, and we pulled it out to the carpark.
Good thing I didn’t put the camera away. She wanted a miniature cardigan, (I’m no fashion expert, she called it a shrug), from her bag in the back of the car. Everything else was loaded; she leaned in through the boot opening and wrestled with her bag. We were at the back of the carpark, sheltered under some trees. Only I could see her reach back to flip her skirt up to her waist . Black stockings, satin ribbon suspenders, a black thong with tiny chains that joined at the notch of her back. It was the first time she’d consciously made a movement that I could say was explicitly exhibitionist; no possibility that her skirt had accidentally fallen that way, or that I’d caught her unawares.
I found my voice.
“If you move your knees apart you might be able to reach better.” She did as I suggested, her legs forming a V, muscles showing in the back of her thighs. Briefly her right hand reached between her thighs, as if adjusting her thong. The way the fingers lingered suggested something else to me. Nothing was revealed, but I knew more, if that makes sense. She threw whatever she’d wanted onto the front seat, then stepped out of the boot opening with a dancer’s grace, and smoothed her skirt down. She mouthed the words ‘thank you’ to me, then walked round to the front of the car.
No I didn’t know how to ask. ‘Are you turning yourself on as much as you’re turning me on Joss? Are you as wet as I am sticky?’
No I didn’t know how to take the next step, from voyeurism to contact.
No, I didn’t want to risk anything that might break the spell we were under.
But I couldn’t say nothing.
I got into the drivers seat and handed her the camera; ‘You’ll have to hold this while I drive – or you can put it in the glove compartment.’
She made a gesture with her lips, half pursed, halfway to a kiss. ‘I’ll keep it out in case we stop at a picnic place or somewhere.’
I gestured to the map book in the door pocket on her side of the car. ‘You’ll find all the service stations and picnic sites in there.’ So I drove, while she studied the map, suggesting route alternatives. She talked about glamour a little, about the formality of fashion pictures and their relationship to other forms of structured communications. She used the copy of Vogue on her lap as an excuse, but an excuse is all it was.
Some of it was culture babble, some of it perceptive insights about people. She probably thought I was talking nonsense sometimes. I chipped in, like a good medievalist, with some references to Abelard and Heloise and courtly love, not that there was anything courtly about how I felt. I talked about the significance of textual codes at a time when visual arts were incapable of conveying complex messages, when so much of art was less about a representation of fact than a kind of visually pleasing hieroglyphics that substituted for the written word.
All of academic life is about talking in codes and deconstructing them; we were doing the same thing to each other. I got the idea that she was looking for something structured, something beyond the student sex life paradigm of drink, maybe drugs, confusion mistaken for spontaneity, often regretted the next day. The conversation was polite, but not restrained, as if there were rules of debate that we were obeying. No embaarassment at pauses, no trying to finish each other’s sentences.
And she liked being the navigator, even if we hadn’t explicitly talked about where the journey was taking us. She directed me precisely, without any confusion, or doubts about her map-reading. Just a young, clever woman, in control.
We ended up at a picnic site in Warwickshire; the ubiquitous red brick toilet block with three or four cars clustered round the entrance on the men’s side, the remainder of the car park empty, rutted, and shadowed by trees that looked like they’d never grown to their anticipated height. Once I’d stopped there was no embarrassment. I didn’t need to ask if she really needed the toilet.
She handed me the camera; reclined her seat; pulled her skirt up to her waist. I checked the camera. 31 shots left on the picture card. Was I making her wait? Possibly. She waited. Patiently. I tried not to fumble, tried not to see if her eyes were taking in the bulge in my trousers.
Instead I took pictures that focussed in on the triangle of her groin. Defined by the shape of the thong, by the satin suspenders, doorframes to that entrance. I walked around the car to her side, opened the door, and got her to sit sideways on her seat. She moved slowly, gracefully, perhaps imagining in her mind that an awkward movement would break the role play. She needed no prompting to take her top and skirt off, and sit there in just a black basque, thong, stockings and boots. I hoped that in the afternoon sunlight the camera would pick up the dark shapes of her nipples under the cups of the basque.
We weren’t saying very much to each other. No sexual contact between us either, just a crackling charge of sexual excitement. A car came and went on the far side of the car park; we didn’t comment on it, just shared wary glances to make sure we hadn’t drawn attention to ourselves.
I explained to her that we had somehow come down to three pictures left on the memory card. She chose the poses; the professional making sure her portfolio was for the best. One pose with the cups of her basque pulled down, her breasts exposed, her fingers twined round her nipples. Did I stare too long at her nipples while setting the first shot up? I don’t know, and I didn’t care. Their image and shape, apparently erect, pyramidal, nearer brown than pink, their surfaces crinkled and distorted by engorgement, was burned onto my brain before the flash triggered.
Did I spend too long waiting to take the shot of her with her hand under her thong, her breasts exposed, her eyes closed, as if she had been caught unawares? Perhaps. And the final picture with her bending forward into the car from the outside, her legs tight together, her thong halfway down her thighs, did I make her wait a moment longer than she desired, as if allowing her to anticipate something other than the flash? Did she adjust her stance so that there was the tiniest glimpse of her labia between her thighs? I don’t know. I’m not convinced she did either. She was superbly controlled, to be sure, but I didn’t get the impression she was giving a repeat performance of an earlier role.
And me? I didn’t come in my pants. I don’t know how, but I didn’t. She pulled the thong up, still in her glamorous role, professional, cool, but let me watch her trace the line of her pussy lips with a purple fingernail. She stood by the side of the car and slipped the shrug over her shoulders, leaving her top on the backseat. The whole manner of her was admirable, luminously sexy, a maturity far beyond her years. ‘Do you have more batteries for the flash if we need it tonight?’ A smile on my face; spare batteries in my briefcase, and a lead so I could download the pics from the full memory card to my laptop. Oddly, the thought of sex, the physical act, wasn’t uppermost in my mind at that moment, but if asked, I’d have said it had moved from the realm of the possible to the world of the inevitable. No details of how, or where, or when, but it would happen.
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