Mr. and Mrs. John Tittle Jr., the parents of John Tittle III (AKA, Johnny), seemed like an unlikely match. John Jr. was wearing a hand-tailored black pinstriped suit and a $250 red silk tie with tiny golden golfers. An Egyptian cotton handkerchief obscured his round little face as he sneezed. “Damned cold,” he said. He carefully wiped his nose, put away the handkerchief, and adjusted his black Ralph Lauren eyewear.
Another sneeze erupted. He apologized. “I caught this cold a week ago in Bangkok. It’s relentless.” He adjusted his thick black glasses.
“What takes you to such an exotic location?” My theory was the live sex shows. I had nothing to substantiate the theory except a comment or two Johnny made in his journal about his parents’ travel agency.
“My business is complicated.” John Jr. laughed. “Elaine and I….”
“We book high-end Asian tours for singles,” his wife offered. Now I was convinced it was sex shows.
Mrs. John Tittle Jr., AKA Elaine, was in her late thirties, two decades younger than her husband. She had curly blonde hair and impeccable makeup. She wore a black pinstriped dress that matched her husband’s suit, but she wore it with a flare. Elaine’s expression suggested that John Jr. was about to make an idiot of himself.
“…. so, when Johnny told me he had a C for the mid-term grade, I told him it must be a mistake. I said I’d straighten things out.”
I turned to my grade sheet. “Actually, it was a mistake.”
John Tittle Jr. glanced over to Elaine and gave her his best I-told-you-so look.
“I explained the error to Johnny today.” John Jr. failed to suppress a satisfied smile. “I’d mistakenly recorded one daily assignment as a 33 when actually it was a 3. He has a D at mid-term.”
“He has a D?” he erupted.
“Really a D minus….”
“My son has never gotten a D minus on anything in his life!”
“Actually, Johnny seemed relieved he wasn’t failing.” I placed a wooden ruler along the line on the grade printout for John Tittle III and highlighted his grades in yellow. “As you can see, we’ve had four major tests,” I circled each in black ink. “He’s flunked them all.” I glanced to Elaine. She wasn’t surprised.
John Jr.’s face glowed crimson. “I heard you make the tests impossible….” His wife folded her arms, waiting for her husband’s storm to pass.
“Well, John makes the class a lot tougher than it needs to be,” I told him.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, for example,” I leaned back so as not to be in his face, “most students download the essay questions before the test.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“A week before the test I post ten potential essay questions on the class Moodle site. Most students retrieve them. Johnny doesn’t use Moodle. I know because I can see when students log in.”
For a moment John Jr. was very quiet. “Why do you give out the questions?”
I looked to Elaine. She smiled back at me. This was not news to her. “I teach concepts. I teach a process of analysis. I don’t believe in surprises.” John Jr. glanced at his wife who nodded in agreement. “I also tell them the answers.”
“What!” he asked rising slightly from his chair. The other parents talking quietly across the hall become silent.
“John,” Elaine interjected, “that was a joke. Mr. Beiderman identifies the questions to help the students focus. Then, if they take notes in class, his lectures provide them the answers.”
“Oh.” His face was incandescent. “How did you figure this out?”
“My son told me.” She pulled out a sheet of paper she had folded in her purse. “Plus, it’s on the syllabus Mr. Beiderman emailed to every parent.” She removed a pair of large framed purple glasses with pale purple tint on the lenses. Alarms went off in my brain. There was something familiar about Elaine.
“So, why is your son getting a ‘D-’?” John Jr. asked his wife.
“I don’t have a clue,” she told him. “He didn’t tell me that. Your son can be as pig-headed as you.” Elaine turned to me. “I was hoping Mr. Beiderman could explain.” The moment was interrupted by two horrendous sneezes from John Jr. Elaine was clearly amused.
“Was John eager to take this class?” I asked, looking innocently into her pale purple lenses. I’d seen those glasses before.
“John took the class only after our encouragement.” She glanced at John Jr. “He told us he wasn’t smart enough.”
“But you knew he was…?” I asked. Elaine nodded. The affect was to bounce her beautiful blonde curls.
“He’s gotten ‘A’s all through Middle School,” John Jr. said.
“John,” Elaine said, “in Mount Union, everyone gets A’s in Middle School. Am I right Mr. Beiderman?”
“Yes. Exactly, Elaine. But please call me Joe.” She smiled again. “This class was more work than Johnny wanted,” I told her. “He doesn’t download the questions because he might think about them ahead of time, or study, and actually pass a test.”
“That’s stupid,” John Jr. interjected.
“No, it’s perfectly understandable. He’s proving he can’t handle the class. Plus, he’s protected himself because he isn’t really failing. He just didn’t try.”
Elaine leaned toward me. She was wearing an old familiar fragrance, Chanel No. 5. “Can he handle the work?”
“Yes. When we read Antigone, Johnny contributed to the class discussion. On the test he wrote terrific essay answers on civil disobedience and Antigone’s use of power, but blew off the third question. He marked all the true/false false.”
Elaine brushed her blonde hair away from her face. “So what do you suggest?”
“The morning of a test, I have a forty minute review session. Maybe you could encourage him to come to the next one.”
Elaine reached into her purse again and pulled out a lavender lace ribbon and tied up her hair. “I can persuade him.”
John Jr. turned on her. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Elaine gave her husband a death stare, and then spit out. “It means that Johnny might listen to me…. You know, maybe if you spent more time at home instead of in Bangkok with your private tour groups, you might….”
“Now wait a minute….”
Before he could finish Elaine got up. “Mr. Beiderman…. Joe, we’ve taken far too much of your time….” She pointed to the seven parents now waiting in the hall to see me. “I understand there is another test on Friday.” John Jr. stood up beside Elaine.
“Johnny will be in for the review.” The Tittles began walking away. After a few steps Elaine stopped and turned. She caught me staring at her heart-shaped ass. I remembered when I’d seen her before. It was on the BDSM website I’d visited after my divorce. The woman in the photo wore a white skin-tight PVC jumpsuit, black wig, boots with five-inch heels, and those purple glasses. She held a hand-crafted Australian flogger with kangaroo leather tails. She called herself Mistress E.
“l’ll call you next week after the test.” She raised her eyebrows and tilted her head, daring me to refuse her. “My husband will be in Kawalla Lampour.” I broke into a sweat. “Or I could come in after school if you’re not tied up.” She walked back to my table and said very softly, “Or we could meet somewhere for … a munch.”
“That would be swell,” I told Mistress E. How could I refuse?
Elaine just laughed and then followed her husband into the hall.
Paul Lewellan lives on the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa, USA. He teaches Communications Studies at a small private liberal arts college across the river. His wife, Pamela Druger, is a certified fraud examiner and his chief editor and critic. For the last 20 years, Paul has been writing short fiction, publishing an average of five stories a year. Pamela supports the hobby. “It keeps him off the streets, and it doesn’t cost him much.”