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Absolute Beginners

By:S.J. Hooks

Chapter 1

Glancing at my watch, I breathed a small sigh of relief. My class was about to start and she was blissfully absent. Usually, I didn’t approve when my students missed a lecture, but it seemed that a lot had changed since the beginning of the spring semester when she sauntered into my classroom, annoying me at every turn. I looked at my watch again. Time to start.

Then the door swung open, and my good mood dissipated.

Of course she wouldn’t miss a class. She never has.

She danced into the room as she always did, wearing ridiculously large headphones, bopping her head to the beat. Did she even notice the stares she received? Did she care? Probably not, given her choice of outfit—if one could even call it that. The combat boots on her feet were unpolished and worn, her black pantyhose was riddled with holes, her skirt was far too short, and if that wasn’t bad enough, she had cut up the neckline of her long-sleeved shirt, making it fall off her naked shoulder. My eyes lingered there, noting the lack of bra strap.

The jocks in the back noticed, too, their eyes following her as her movements made it obvious that she definitely wasn’t wearing anything underneath the tight-fitting shirt. Lifting my gaze to her face, I met her eyes for a second. She flashed me a grin, winking. Suddenly, I felt as though my bowtie was too tight around my neck and I had to fight the urge to tug at it.

As she breezed past my desk, I pretended to glance at my watch. It was too much to take in when she was that close—those red lips and all that smudgy black stuff she wore on her eyes. It was like looking at a deranged version of a mime.

I didn’t understand why she chose to present herself like that, when she was otherwise reasonably pretty. She had a nice figure, large blue eyes, and long, shiny reddish-brown hair. But she never wore it down. Today, it looked like she had twirled large sections of it with an electric mixer and then pinned them up.

Her appearance wasn’t the only thing that bothered me. The girl seemed to have no appreciation for the fact that I was her professor, or for the decorum with which she was expected to act around me. She often addressed me as “Stephen,” even though I corrected her each time it happened. I wasn’t “Stephen” when I was teaching a class and I expected my students to address me as either “Professor Worthington” or “Sir.” Needless to say, my expectations were not met where this bothersome young woman was concerned. Today was hardly the first time she had winked at me, and I had no idea how to react when it happened. She was entirely unpredictable and it made me nervous. She never hesitated to interrupt me during class if she was of a different opinion.

And when is she not of a different opinion?

I had never met a more infuriatingly opinionated and stubborn girl in all my life. I was looking forward to the end of the semester, after which I’d never have to see her again. She was smart—I couldn’t deny it —and I was certain that she’d pass my class with flying colors.

She took a seat at the front of the class, like always, and I watched as she placed her bag on the floor. The movement made the already loose neckline of her shirt slide further down her shoulder, revealing more of her pale skin. That bothered me even more than the constant interruptions and inappropriate behavior. Why couldn’t she just dress nicely? She would be such a pretty young lady if she wore a decent-length skirt and perhaps a silk blouse. But, apparently, she was adamant in her desire to look like a trashy urchin, thus effectively spoiling my good mood. I liked order and predictability, neither of which I was able to enjoy with her in my classroom.

She was even appropriately named “Wilde.”

Ms. Wilde had become a constant source of annoyance in my otherwise pleasant Tuesday/Friday teaching schedule, and I couldn’t wait to be rid of her.

I cleared my throat to let my students know that I was beginning the class, and for once they settled down quickly. I knew the reason for this unusual occurrence without having to ask: today we were discussing the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. The risqué plot of a grown man who falls in love and has a sexual relationship with a twelve-year-old girl rendered the novel a perennial class favorite. It was still banned in many places, and nothing made my literature students feel more like adults than reading “forbidden” books. As the class started, I was surprised to see that for once, Ms. Wilde was not participating. She was writing her notes quietly with a small smile on her face.

As the discussion continued, a student in the back suggested that the main character, Humbert, was mentally ill and not in control of his own actions, and he should be allowed a little clemency.