Pulling up in the parking lot, Joyce checked her hair in the rearview mirror one last time before retrieving her keys and slipping gracefully out of the car. Quickly, she made certain all the windows were rolled up and the doors locked. Just because Sunnydale had an abnormally high number of missing persons, it was no reason to become complacent about car crime. She hurried up the steps to the imposing slate coloured building that was Sunnydale Community College. It simply wouldn’t do to be late on her first day.
She took a moment to compose herself before pushing open the classroom door. She was pleasantly surprised to find she wasn’t the only student on the wrong side of forty. For some irrational reason she’d expected the Information Technology Skills for Business Owners class to be full of spotty-faced whiz-kids. They were just average people like herself, trying to grapple with incomprehensible modern technology. She’d actually been meaning to take this course for a few years but had managed to delay the inevitable. It was on her bank manager’s advice that she’d finally enrolled. To be honest, the gallery was struggling without the much needed arts subsidy from the local authorities and she’d been encouraged to ‘streamline’ the business and publicise the gallery online.
So here she was, on a balmy Wednesday evening, in a room full of twenty strangers, anxiously waiting for the tutor to arrive. She took an empty seat at the back of the class which only reminded her of her school days. She’d often remonstrated Buffy over her lack of application to her studies but she’d been much the same in her own youth. Call it selective mom memory, something she’d been very good at with regards to Buffy’s strange behaviour since they’d moved from Hemery. So she just tried to be supportive, while subtly reminding Buffy about neglecting her school work. Buffy seemed to be coping reasonably well though, with the divorce and everything, so Joyce had little to worry about there.
Joyce did worry, though, that she was a little redundant now. Buffy was so independent and cooking for one, so often, was slightly depressing. She tried not to dwell on those morbid thoughts and fought to maintain a positive attitude. That was part of the reason she’d signed up for this course – it was a way of meeting people who no doubt struggled with their own teenaged offspring. She hoped to find empathy and friendship and this was good a place to start looking.
"It’s just like being in seventh grade again, isn’t it?" the woman next to her said with a cheerful smile. She held out her hand for Joyce to shake and the blonde woman obliged. "I’m Deirdre."
"Joyce," the blonde supplied and returned the smile, with a bit of relief. "And, yes, that’s what I was just thinking."
Deirdre chuckled softly. "So, what do you do?"
"I run the gallery in town," Joyce said, with only a hint of pride.
"Oh," the other woman’s eyes lit up. "I love the Matisse you have there. One of my absolute favourites."
Joyce was about to respond when the door swung open and a young, raven-haired woman entered the classroom carrying an armful of textbooks. She looked barely out of college herself and Joyce recognised her after a few moments as one of Buffy’s teachers. Miss Caldwell or something. They’d chatted briefly about Buffy’s lack of progress at the last parent/teacher conference, just one stop on the itinerary of disappointment that was Buffy’s academic record.
Having noticed the hush that fell over the classroom, the tutor raised an eyebrow. "It’s alright, we’re not in grade school anymore. You *can* talk amongst yourselves." She dumped her textbooks and perched herself on the desk. "My name’s Miss Calendar but I’d rather you call me Jenny. I don’t believe in classroom formality, after all, we’re all adults here." Easing off the desk, Jenny picked up a pencil and a piece of paper. "I’m going to pass round this seating plan and I want you all to write your names on it."
Soon, the class got into full swing and Joyce was relieved to find that Jenny had a refreshingly casual approach to the subject, not bombarding them with jargon and technobabble. In fact, she was even starting to understand the difference between the Internet and an Intranet by the time the class finished.
Just as she was leaving, Miss Calendar approached her. "Joyce, could I speak with you for a moment?"
The blonde woman paused by the door. "Sure."
The tutor looked like she was struggling with something and waited for the rest of her students to file out of the room. "It’s about Buffy."
"Oh? Has she been in trouble?" It was Joyce’s automatic response to assume the worst, ever since that whole arson incident back in Hemery.
"No, not at all," Jenny assured but there was something in her eyes that made Joyce dubious. "It’s just, well, her grades have been slipping quite dramatically. I just wondered if she’d said anything to you, about problems she might be having."
Joyce frowned slightly. "No. She hasn’t told me anything." She’d grown wearily accustomed to the fact that Buffy was never going to share anything about her personal life. Occasionally, she dropped tidbits of information but nothing concrete. "But… she goes through phases of preoccupation sometimes. With boys mainly. There’s some college boy tutoring her at the moment and I think she has a crush on him. Angel I think his name is."
The tutor’s face seemed to darken at the mention of Angel and it made Joyce wonder. "I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about," Jenny said far too brightly.
"All the same, I’ll have a word with her," Joyce said. "If that’s all…?"
Jenny smiled then, the tension driven from her pretty features. "Yes, of course. I’ll walk you to your car. From what I’ve seen Sunnydale can be pretty dangerous at night. You don’t know *what’s* lurking in the bushes."
Joyce was about to politely refuse the offer but reconsidered. She did feel a lot safer when she was in company and Jenny seemed amiable enough. Plus, it couldn’t do any harm to win a few points with the teacher. By the time they reached the parking lot, Joyce felt obliged to offer the teacher a lift home which Jenny graciously accepted. On the way they made smalltalk about the high school - carefully avoiding any discussion of Buffy’s poor grades - Mr Giles’ dedication to the students, and Los Angeles, where Jenny had briefly worked as a substitute in one of the inner city slums. Then, somehow the conversation edged into less safe territory. Jenny remarked that while working in the ghetto, she’d gotten her first piercing.
"Oh, where?" Joyce asked innocently, concentrating on the road.
"My clit," Jenny replied, matter-of-factly.
It took a moment or two for Jenny’s answer to register and when it did, Joyce’s eyes flew to the other woman’s mostly composed face. The teacher smirked slightly at Joyce’s amazement. "Really?" Joyce asked with raised eyebrows and complete awe. Jenny just nodded. The blonde woman’s eyes flitted back to the road. "Wow," she said finally with a short laugh. Another silence followed as she contemplated the mechanics of it. "Did it hurt?"
Jenny chuckled. "Terribly. For a few days anyway. But the benefits far outweigh the initial pain…" the teacher trailed off suggestively.
Joyce glanced at the other woman again, wondering if she’d imagined the flirtatious tone of voice. The teacher was staring calmly out the window, the faint trace of a smile on her lips. Funny how Joyce kept focusing on those lips… Shaking her head, Joyce turned her attention back to the road.
"You must’ve done something wild in your time?" Jenny prodded ambiguously and the older woman wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or treat it as a back-handed compliment.
"Not particularly," Joyce said, trying to ignore the cloying, musky scent of the teacher’s perfume. "I smoked a few joints back in college. Nothing overtly delinquent, I’m afraid."
"Shame," Jenny said with amusement. "I really wanted to picture you as a wild child." She was looking directly at the blonde and Joyce could feel dark eyes burning on her cheek. It seemed uncomfortably warm in the car now and Joyce rolled down the window to allow a breeze to ruffle her hair.
"I wasn’t a saint," Joyce admitted, "but I didn’t have a reputation either. I met Buffy’s father when I was at college and we were together for fifteen years." She hoped that the mention of Hank would usurp the teacher’s intentions, whatever they were, because she wasn’t comfortable with… this. Even though her heart was beating a hundred miles per second because, for what seemed like the first time in years, someone attractive was hitting on her. Someone ridiculously young, not to mention *female*. Not that she had a problem with lesbians, or bisexuals or whatever, just, it was out of her frame of reference. It wasn’t something she’d contemplated before. So far she’d conformed to everything that society, and her middle class upbringing, expected of her: college degree, husband, child, and moderate success in her chosen field. Even divorce seemed to be a given nowadays, marriage seldom lasted the course. She’d never given any thought to her sexuality because nothing had popped up to challenge her notions of it.
"It must be difficult, being a single-parent," Jenny said, with honest and open admiration.
Joyce smiled wanly. "It’s a struggle sometimes but I wouldn’t change a thing. Even the loneliness." She tried not to dwell on the silent desperation that arose from going to bed alone every night. Sometimes she fantasised about going out to some bar and taking a different lover home each night but that wasn’t her style at all. It wasn’t about sex, she just missed being held, being next to someone.
"Loneliness, I understand," Jenny said quietly, staring straight ahead. "You can be in a room full of people and still feel disconnected."
Listening to the ambivalence in the teacher’s voice, Joyce wondered at who this woman really was, where she came from and why she was sharing this with her. What surprised her was that she wanted to find out the answers to these questions. She wanted to make a connection, that was all, Joyce tried to convince herself. It had nothing to do with the fact that she was still curious about that piercing, or that she wondered what other strange delights were hidden under that respectable uniform of grey pencil skirt and white cotton blouse. It wasn’t that she wanted to find out if those lips were as soft as they looked. All these thoughts and more were making it difficult to concentrate on steering the car.
"You’ve got no reason to be lonely. You’re so young and beautiful," Joyce murmured, not meaning to articulate what she was thinking aloud.
The teacher made no comment, she simply gave Joyce directions to her modest apartment, and minutes later they’d arrived outside the nondescript building. Releasing the seatbelt, Jenny half-turned to the other woman. The glare of headlamps from a passing car momentarily lit the teacher’s face before her features were returned to shadowed outlines. Still, her eyes penetrated the half-darkness, warm and keen. "I realise it’s entirely inappropriate for me to say this but… would you like to come up?"
"I have an early start in the morning," Joyce said apologetically, the automatic instinct to panic and back away from potentially dangerous emotional entanglements kicking in.
Jenny nodded slowly and it seemed like she’d been robbed of the exotic sensuality she’d exuded moments before. "Me too," she said flatly and reached for the door handle. "I guess I’ll see you in class next week." With a feeling of nausea she watched Jenny get out and walk up the steps, disappearing inside the main door.
Joyce didn’t drive away, she just sat there for several minutes contemplating the opportunity she’d thrown away. She shut off the engine, the silence somehow comforting. Looking up she saw a light blink out and before reason could change her mind, she left the car and made her way up the steps. She pressed the buzzer for Jenny’s apartment and waited. A million thoughts were rushing through her head, ‘do this’, ‘don’t do this’, ‘you’re not crazy’, ‘you *are* crazy.’
Jenny’s crackly, disembodied voice cut through them. "Hello?"
"It’s me," Joyce said, keeping her voice steady with effort. "Can I come up?"
There was a buzz and the clunk of the door being remotely unlocked and moments later, Joyce found herself outside the door to Jenny’s apartment. The door opened and Jenny stood there in T-shirt and shorts, looking as uncertain as Joyce was sure she appeared herself. "Do you want come in or do you want stand out in the hallway all night?" Jenny asked when the older woman was silent.
Once she crossed the threshold, Joyce took hold of herself and the raging insecurity that was making her tremble. Reaching out with one hand, she threaded her fingers through Jenny’s dark hair and she saw the teacher’s eyes darken with unsuppressed desire. "I have to know," Joyce said by way of explanation and Jenny just smiled in that way that made Joyce think she knew the answers to everything.
Their lips met and Joyce couldn’t tell who initiated it, there was just her mouth upon the other woman’s and lips parting to allow the entrance of hesitant tongues. Jenny’s fingers moved across her jaw, caressing a path back and forth before falling to her breast, tracing the outline of her nipple through her loose sweater. But if there was any doubt in her mind about wanting and needing this, it was squashed when Jenny’s hand slipped under her skirt.