Set between Winter Jacket 2 and 3
It was hot.
Minnesota wasn’t known for having unbearably humid summers, but I’d been in my on-campus office all day with not even an oscillating fan to circulate the stale air. With no students on campus over the summer months, the university had no reason to turn on the air conditioning, and I was suffering the consequences of that frugal decision. My cut-off shorts stuck to my thighs, and I wiped at my forehead with the bottom hem of my tank top to catch the sweat that had accumulated on my forehead.
A piercing wolf whistle had me tugging my shirt back to its original place. "Looking good, Professor Graft."
My friend and mentor, Emily, grinned at me from the doorway of my office. "Trying out a new diet or is that what dating a foxy young thing does to your body?" she asked, wiggling her eyebrows.
Her words and whistle had me blushing furiously, but I'd been working for so long in the stuffy office that my face was probably already flushed red.
Emily was incredibly attractive. There was no better way to express it. When she’d first been assigned as my teaching mentor when I was a new hire, I’d been intimidated by her. She was beautiful and smart and sharp-witted and tenured and everything I wanted to be. Luckily I’d gotten over my little crush though so we could be friends.
“Don't answer that,” she waved me off. "But speaking of your significant other, you two still owe me a dinner date,” she clucked.
“Were you serious about that?” I had all but promised Hunter that it would never happen.
Emily shrugged. “Maybe if I can pry my husband away from his fantasy baseball team. Seriously, fantasy football I can understand, but what kind of sports geek has a fantasy baseball team?”
“Keep me updated on that,” I laughed, feeling my embarrassment slip away.
“What is all this?” she asked, gesturing to the disaster that was my office. Piles of books surrounded me like a fortress.
“Just trying to decide what stays and what goes.” I never would have thought choosing which books I could live without for half a year and which needed to make the trip to California would cause me an existential crisis.
Emily picked up one of the hardcover books that had been on my ‘Maybe’ list. “You are planning on coming back from your sabbatical, right?”
“Of course.” Even if things in Los Angeles went better than expected, I’d still have to come back to pack up and sell my house.
“When in doubt, always bring Winterson.”
I smiled broadly. “Thanks, dear mentor. What would I do without you?”
"I envy you this break." Emily sighed and leaned against the doorframe. "I know every semester is the same length, but why do some feel longer than others?"
"Hey, don't even complain," I interjected. "You just got back from sabbatical last year."
She wrinkled her nose. "I know. Take it from me, Elle, enjoy this time off. It'll fly by, and before you know it, you'll be back here toiling away with the rest of us."
I bit my lip and nodded, but I didn't say anything. Emily didn't know—none of my faculty friends knew—that if everything went well in Los Angeles that I would be resigning.
My phone rattled on my desk and Hunter's face popped up on the screen. "Sorry,” I apologized, picking up the vibrating phone. “I should probably take this."
Emily smiled knowingly. "I'll leave you to it then. See you around, Elle."
I gave her a parting wave, and Emily disappeared from my doorway. Hunter's call continued to ring. "Hey, babe," I answered. "What's up?"
"Are you still in your office?" she asked.
"Yeah." I surveyed the damage. "But I'm close to finishing up."
"I left you something in your desk."
I spun on my heel and looked at the aforementioned piece of furniture. "You did? When?" I thought I had cleaned it out only a few days prior.
"Look in the top right hand drawer."
"Where are you?" I asked. "Your voice sounds echo-y."
"Just look in the desk drawer, Dr. Graft.”
"You're being awfully secretive," I remarked. Despite my curiosity, I did as she instructed and opened the designated drawer. In my experience, good things tended to happen when I followed her directions.
In the top drawer I normally stored old essays and blue books that had been graded but hadn't been claimed yet. Since it was summer though, the drawer was empty—or at least it should have been. A cream-colored envelope sat alone inside the drawer. The paper was thick like that used for wedding and graduation invitations.
"What is this?" I asked, pulling out the envelope. The words "Clue One" were written on the front. I should have waited for her answer, but I immediately ripped into the sealed envelope instead.
Inside the envelope was a thicker piece of paper. I pulled it free from the envelope and recognized Hunter’s handwriting. "The words on these pages brought us together. Figure it out and we'll come together again soon," I read aloud. "What's this about?"
"I thought you should have a proper send-off before you left,” she responded. “Who knows when you'll be back on campus again."
"Is this a scavenger hunt? Are you going to make me run around campus all day looking for clues?"
"Maybe." I could hear the smile in her voice.
I ran my hand over my face. "Babe, I've got so much to do before we leave on Friday." I had underestimated how much time and work went into moving across the country and I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the whole process.
"I thought you might say that. Look in the second drawer."
My desk should have been entirely cleaned out. But she'd already surprised me with one envelope. I pulled out the drawer directly beneath the one where I had found Clue One. It was empty as well, except for a manila envelope.
How had she gotten access to my office? I wondered. Who had she charmed and convinced to let her into the locked room?
"Is this Clue Two?" I chuckled, juggling my phone, the original envelope, and now the second larger one.
"No. Think of the second envelope as … incentive."
The larger envelope was sealed with only a metal fasten, and I dug around inside for what it contained. My fingertips slipped over lace and I pulled whatever was inside free from the oversized envelope. I now held a pair of dark red underwear with black lace trim, delicate and flimsy.
Hunter’s voice dropped in my ear: "I was wearing those this morning. Now I'm not. Come find me, Professor Graft." The phone clicked and the dial tone sounded in my ear.
+ + +
After the initial shock of being in possession of my girlfriend’s underwear had worn off, and I had stopped obsessing over the details of how she had gotten into my office that morning without me knowing, Hunter’s first clue had me marching in the direction of the university library.
“The words that had brought us together” could have been a number of things. She'd been my student once, and it could have been any of the books I'd assigned in class. But more likely it was Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, the author after whom I'd named my cat. I’d let Hunter borrow the book once upon a time and we’d spent hours at Peggy’s bar discussing the lesbian subtext between the main characters. That wasn’t the first time Hunter had impressed or surprised me, but it was the first night she’d kissed me.
Walking into the library, I was greeted with a blast of cool air. Few buildings on campus were open year round, but the library, student union, gymnasium, and a few administrative buildings like the admission’s office stayed open.
The library was more silent that day than usual—like a vacuum had swallowed up any noises in the vicinity. I was a frequent visitor to the building because of my discipline, and I’d been able to procure a job for my mom there only a few months prior because of my connections. She’d quit since then, however, after making the decision to move back to my home state of Michigan and help my younger sister raise her new baby.
I consulted the online card catalogue briefly to find the call numbers associated with the book I sought before traipsing down to the lower level stacks where the literature books lived. As I silently traveled the long, narrow shelving units of books, it didn't evade my notice that Hunter herself might be waiting for me, not The Bell Jar. But if she had gone to the trouble of setting this up, I doubted I would get away so easily with only one clue. I was probably the only person on the sub-level floor. The stacks were sparsely populated when school was in session, let alone in the summer.
It would have been a lie, however, if I didn’t admit to fantasizing about fooling around with Hunter in the stacks. It was probably every bibliophile’s dream. I thought about my girlfriend’s long, lean body trapped between my body and a bookshelf, her backside pressed against rows of books that threatened to topple over. I thought about her perched on a sturdy wooden study table with me between her parted thighs. I could practically see the strain on her face and the way her teeth dug into her lower lip as she struggled to stay quiet.
Even if I had wanted to call Hunter's phone and demand she tell me where she was hiding, I wouldn't have any cell service in the belly of the library. I'd just have to think of this scavenger hunt as foreplay and make her pay for it when I finally tracked her down. I shook off the haze of lust that wrapped around me like a tight blanket in order to focus on the classification labels on the ends of each shelving unit that would direct me to Sylvia Plath’s novels.
I ran my fingertips along the line up of books at eye level. There were multiple copies of Plath's most famous novel on the shelves, but my eyes settled on the familiar spine of the same edition that I owned. When I pulled the book from its place, an envelope in the familiar cardstock fell from its pages.
I couldn't open up the second envelope fast enough. I read the next clue inside my head, in case someone else actually was in the library basement with me. "Dr. Graft, how does your garden grow? Find my next clue, and you'll be one step closer to having something to feast on."
I grinned, immediately knowing the answer. Doug Witlan, a tenured biology professor, had constructed a raised garden on a corner of campus with one of his advanced biology classes a few semesters ago. Student workers tended to the garden in the summer and early fall months, and the harvested food was donated to a local food pantry.
I tucked the clue card into my bag and replaced the book on its proper shelf. I was tempted to linger a little longer in the library and enjoy the air conditioning, but Hunter's underwear was stashed in my workbag, and I was eager to return them to her.
The campus garden was a short walk from the library on a small plot of land near the building that housed the Math, Business, and Economics departments. Even without the scavenger hunt, gardening and flowers and freshly tilled soil would always remind me of my girlfriend. I did a cursory scan of the raised beds. Where would she have hidden the third clue?
It was early in the summer season and new green shoots broke the soil's surface. Miniature corn stalks crowded the center of the plot and the beginnings of prickly cucumber and pumpkin plants wound around the garden's perimeter. Neat little rows of carrots, radishes, and something that looked like leaf lettuce each had markers at one end of their respective rows. The paper seed bags were attached to popsicle sticks that had been stuck into the ground to identify each plant. I crouched down for a closer look. Maybe she'd attached the next clue to the back of one of the markers.
The click-clack of pointed heels striking against concrete drew my attention away from my search for clue three.
I turned my eyes away from immature leaf lettuce and the green stocks of carrots and radishes to find Jessica Merlot's black stilettos beside me. Her shapely legs were at my eye level, and I quickly scrambled to my feet.
"Oh hi, Dean Merlot."
I brushed away at the dirt that stuck to the bare skin of my knees and self-consciously ran my fingers through my ponytail. Despite the summer heat, Dean Merlot was dressed as impeccably as ever. Her sleeveless grey shell showed off thin, toned arms, and the material of her black skirt clung to shapely hips and stopped just above her knees. Without my similar armor of pencil skirt and blouse, I felt vulnerable and ill-prepared for a conversation.
"It's just Jessica," she gently corrected as she'd done every time before.
"Hi, Just Jessica," I routinely replied.
"What's this?" At her words, I discovered Hunter's next envelope. It had been taped to a peace garden stake that lined the perimeter of the vegetable garden.
I reached for the envelope, but missed. Jessica Merlot now held the next clue. She flipped the envelope over and read the words written on the outside. "Clue Three?" Her face scrunched in confusion.
"It's, uh, that's mine."
"What is it?" she asked, waving the envelope.
"Nothing really. Something left over from the semester." I couldn't very well tell my boss that I was on a hunt to find my girlfriend who was hiding somewhere on campus and that her underwear were in my leather briefcase.
"I'm glad I bumped into you," she said, ignoring the envelope for a moment. "We haven't had the opportunity to really talk since the end of the semester."
My eyes flicked back and forth between the Dean's face and the dirt-smudged card in her hands. "I've been busy preparing for my sabbatical."
"Oh, I know." She tapped her fingers against the cardstock.
What Jessica didn't know was the reason for the sabbatical. To her and the rest of the university staff, I was taking the semester break because it was something guaranteed in my contract that would let me work on projects to eventually promote me from Associate Professor to Professor. I was keeping the detail that I was moving across country to write for a TV show from my work colleagues. The school was already too much of a fishbowl without them knowing those things.
"Will you still be around, using your office this fall?” she asked. “Or are you really leaving?"
"I haven't decided yet," I lied. My job was protected because of tenure, but I didn't need to give this woman another reason to make my professional life difficult. "I've obviously never had a sabbatical before, so I need to figure out what environment will be most conducive to getting work done."
Jessica made a humming noise. "Well, I hope you won't be a stranger."
She slowly handed me the envelope, and I pushed down the urge to yank it from her hands. Our fingers brushed as the exchange was made.
"Enjoy your sabbatical, Elle."
"Thank you," I said, bobbing my head in gratitude. "I'll do my best."
I waited until the Dean had put enough distance between us with her departure before tearing into the newest clue. "The only place in winter you won't need a jacket."
I wondered if this was purposeful, this clue-led trip down memory lane: first Plath's book, then gardening, and now the comment about a winter jacket. It had been Hunter's blue winter jacket that had started this all. Even the answer to her riddle brought back memories of time spent with my girlfriend.
I left the campus garden and all but skipped in the direction of the Life Sciences building. Attached to the building were two small greenhouses that served as ecosystems, one tropical and the other arid. As her clue suggested, regardless of the temperature outside, the greenhouses remained balmy.
It reminded me of Nikole's greenhouse across town. When she and Troian had left for California, Hunter had continued to care for the tiny seedlings Nikole had planted before Troian had gotten the head writing job for the television show I'd soon be joining. Hunter hadn't been able to take off for Spring Break with me to someplace warm, so she'd surprised me with a picnic in Nikole’s greenhouse.
I tugged on the handle to the science building’s main entrance, but the door didn't budge. I tried the next door with an equal lack of success. They were all locked. I took a few steps backwards and peered up at the building, as if expecting it to reveal the answer to me. I checked Hunter's clue again. This had to be what she was talking about. I had to get inside this building.
I dug around my school bag until I found my cell phone. The number for campus security was programmed into my contacts, and I pressed the buttons to call their offices.
"Campus security," a raspy-voiced woman answered. "This is Connie."
"Hi Connie, this is Professor Elle Graft. I'm trying to get into the Life Sciences building, but it's all locked up. Could you possibly send someone over to let me in?"
"Have you tried using your campus ID?"
All of the campus buildings and even some of the inner doors were connected to card readers that eliminated the need for heavy key rings and bolstered campus security.
"I'm English faculty," I said. "I don't have access to this building."
I expected her to ask why I needed to get into the science building, but the question never came. It was lucky because I didn't have an appropriate answer.
"I'll send someone right over, Professor."
Time passed slowly as I stood outside of the Life Science building, waiting for campus security to show up and let me inside. I wondered how many more clues I would have to chase down before I found Hunter. All of these detours were beginning to frustrate me, but the giddy feelings reappeared when I saw the campus security vehicle pull up near the curb where I stood.
A man wearing the dark navy blue campus security uniform stepped out of the driver’s side. “Professor Graft?” he asked.
I nodded, confirming he’d found the right person. "Hello."
A massive key ring was attached to his hip, and it tangled with each step closer. I wondered at the need for so many keys because of the new keycard system, but I kept the question to myself. If I didn't question him, perhaps he wouldn't question me.
"How’s your day going?” he greeted.
"Better now that you’re here," I returned with a charming smile. "Thanks for the help."
"It's no problem. Around this time of year it's nice to get calls. Breaks up the monotony of the days, ya know?" He swiped his card over the ID reader and the front door audibly unlocked. “Is that all you needed?"
"Yep," I confirmed, pulling the entrance open before it automatically relocked. "Thanks again for your help."
I was curt and dismissive, and I wondered if he had directions to stay with me until I left the building, but I was sure he was anxious to return to the air conditioning of his running vehicle. "Okay. Well, call if you need us again."
Once inside, I had to stop my search a few times to consult floor plans posted at intersecting hallways. I knew the building had greenhouses, but I didn’t know exactly where they were. The only time I had occasion to go inside the science building was for all-faculty meetings. The science building had the largest meeting space—a lecture hall reserved for the largest biology classes—but those meetings were rare—once a semester if that.
My sandals flip-flopped down the empty corridors of the abandoned building. All of the classroom doors were closed and the lights were turned off inside them. Most of the overhead lights were on motion sensors and I walked in relative darkness down windowless hallways until the overhead lights flickered to life. It was eerie, more so than the silent library. I was used to the hushed whispers and quiet of the library, but buildings that held classes were always teeming with activity.
Before I could spook myself too much, one of the classroom doors opened and I found myself being tugged inside by the front of my shirt. The door shut behind me with a loud, jarring noise that echoed in my ears.
The room I’d been pulled into was a small laboratory classroom populated with nine long tables, two elevated stools assigned to each table. Lab stations equipped with natural gas outlets, Bunsen burners, beakers, and other glassware lined the perimeter of the classroom.
"This isn't the greenhouse," I astutely observed.
Hunter's hands remained fisted in the front of my tank top. "There was one more clue for you, but I couldn't wait."
I took in the sight of my girlfriend from her leather sandals to the breezy cotton skirt that fell just above her knees to the spaghetti-strap camisole that showed off the dangerous v-cut of her defined collarbone.
“How did you get in here?” I asked. “The building’s locked.”
“I know people,” she grinned. The hands at the front of my shirt tightened and she pulled me closer to her.
I kissed her, soft and fleeting. Her lips parted for me to deepen the embrace, but I pulled away. “I liked your clues.”
“You didn’t think it was too cheesy?” she worried.
I ran my hands up her bare arms. “No. You’re adorable, Hunt.”
“Are you ready for your prize now that you’ve found me?” Hunter’s grin returned and she released her grip on the front of my shirt.
I licked my lips and lowered my voice to a rough rasp. “I’ve been ready since I found the first clue.”
Hunter maintained eye contact as she carefully walked backwards until her backside bumped against the edge of the nearest lab table. She set her palms flat on the table and lifted herself up to sit at its edge. She smoothed the material of her skirt beneath her and beckoned to me with a curling finger.
I obeyed her wordless request and stalked closer until I stood before her. “I understand the significance of the book and the garden and even the greenhouse, but is there something special about this classroom?”
“Not yet,” she smiled at me. “But ask me that question again in a little while.”
Her answer had me laughing. “Is this your plan?" I ran my hand down the center column of her neck, down her collarbone, and between her breasts. She arched her back and leaned into my touch. "Make some new memories, screwing our way across campus?"
"That sounds like an awfully ambitious check list."
"Luckily I have a girlfriend who turns me on with just a look."
"I thought you had to work today." Leave it to me to be practical at a moment like this.
"I switched shifts with Darcy.” Her breathing shallowed when my hands rounded her full breasts. “I also owe her a six-pack."
I walked my fingers across the exposed skin at the top of her tank top. "Sounds like a good deal."
"Too much talking."
Her smooth legs were too much to continue to ignore. My hands slid up the pale flesh, unobstructed by any clothing. “I love it when you wear skirts, baby,” I growled quietly, looking deep into her bright blue eyes.
My hands continued their journey up those irresistible stems, and I stopped when my fingertips brushed against where her underwear should have been. A quiet whimper fell from her parted mouth, and I smiled knowingly at the slight blush that crept onto her face.
"You weren't kidding,” I remarked. My fingers slid through her ready arousal. She was warm and swollen, and I couldn't wait to taste her.
"About my underwear or about being turned on?"
I leaned forward and pressed my mouth against the flushed skin of her bare neck. “God, you’re wet,” I murmured into her.
My mouth continued to travel, and I kissed along the hollow of her neck. She pulled off the elastic band that held my hair in a ponytail and ran her fingers through my wild waves, slightly tugging at the roots.
I bit her neck where it met the gentle decline of her shoulder. It wasn’t as hard as I would have liked, because I knew it upset her when I marked her for everyone to see. Apparently at twenty-two, she was already too old for hickies.
I rubbed my hands along the insides of her smooth thighs and her legs parted a little more for me. With one hand at the nape of her neck and the other still under her skirt, I leaned her backwards, slowly reclining her until her back rested flush on the lab table. Thankful for the formidable size of the desk surface, I pulled myself up on the table as well. I crawled on my knees and positioned myself between her legs, so our hips bumped against each other’s.
As I hovered over her, she lazily stroked my bare arms, the muscles twitching underneath my tank top. “I love you, Ellio,” she crooned. She reached for me and pulled my face down until we were kissing again. It began as languid as her touch, but I knew the hunger that burned in both our bellies.
I couldn’t help myself when my lower torso began to grind into her pussy. Hunter groaned when the rough denim of my cut-off shorts rubbed against her naked sex. I thrust hard into her and she gasped, one long sweet breath rushing from her lungs.
She wrapped those long, slender legs around me, forcing us tighter together. We pushed and pulled and ground against each other until I was breathing heavy and could feel the sweat pooling in the small of my back. The building was hot, but she was even hotter.
Needing to feel more of her, I slid a hand in between our bodies. I shoved the cotton material of her skirt out of the way, bunching it up around her slender waist. She gasped again when my fingers slid through her slick folds. She arched into my touch, silently demanding to feel more of me as well.
My fingers found their way to her seeping hole, and I gathered her arousal, swirling my fingertips around the entrance of her sex. Not wanting her clit to feel left out, I spread some of the thick juices on the throbbing bundle of nerves.
“Oh, God,” she moaned, her eyes rolling back.
I grunted as I pushed two fingers into her tight, unrelenting channel. She was so tight around my fingers, it was a miracle I didn’t cum just from the feeling of her insides pulling at me. “Hunter,” I whimpered.
I grabbed onto her hands with my unoccupied hand and held both of her arms above her head. I pinned her wrists against the lab table, which felt cold and hard in comparison to the warm, soft body beneath me. I began a slow, even rhythm with my fingers. I could feel and hear her getting wetter with every thrust. The clicking noise in the classroom was music to my ears. I kept my gentle, but insistent hold on her wrists with my free hand. Our sweaty foreheads pressed together. I pressed my lips against her open, gasping mouth, and I could practically taste her as she groaned into my mouth.
I quickened my pace inside her and her surprisingly strong legs tightened around my hips like a vice. “Yes, Elle,” she moaned and pressed her mouth into my neck. “God, your fingers,” she babbled. “Don’t stop.”
When her teeth scraped against my neck, I almost lost my control. She pulled her hands free from my hold and raked her fingernails down my back, having wiggled her hands under my thin tank top. I arched my back, loving the rough touch and I thrust into her a little harder.
I wormed my newly free hand under her top, forcing the material to release its hold on her sweaty, damp skin. I grabbed onto a well-proportioned breast. Panting, I felt like a prepubescent boy reaching second base for the first time. Not bothering to unsnap the undergarment, I slipped my hand beneath the underwire of her bra and rolled an already tight nipple between two expert fingers.
“Fuck,” she chanted, slamming her eyes shut. “Fuck … fuck, baby.”
I could feel her tightening even more around my two fingers; she wouldn’t be able to hold on for much longer. “Just let go, baby,” I softly urged. I kissed and licked at her collarbone, tasting the saltiness of her skin.
With each penetrating thrust, my thumb bumped into her aching clit, and I felt her stiffen against my body. I buried my fingers deep inside her and rubbed the bit of flesh with the pad of my thumb. Her pussy spasmed around my saturated fingers, swallowing me repeatedly as she cried out. I continued to rub relentlessly until I felt the quivering and pulsing stop.
My body collapsed on top of hers in exhaustion. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was heavy, but the small, satisfied smile on her curled up lips let me know I had done my job well.
I gently kissed her sweaty forehead and pushed away some errant strands stuck to her skin. “Good?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
She hummed her approval and carnally rolled her hips into mine. I couldn’t help the loud groan that fell out of my mouth; I was so worked up, all she needed to do was touch me and I’d pop.
A sweet smile crept onto her lips. “So where’s next on your list?”