"Life is the art of being well-deceived; and in order that the deception may succeed it must be habitual and uninterrupted." - William Hazlitt
Most of those who knew Cora Fields would agree that her most ardent quality was her unwavering tenacity--when she wanted something, she did anything and everything in her power to obtain it. And what she wanted was Erika Cho.
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to call Erika the dream girl of every guy at Pine Creek High School...And then some.
There was no preference or prejudice in such a statement, rather an objective observation that had solidified itself as fact within the minds of both the students and even the townspeople, for she herself, though possessing a naturally friendly and amicable personality, was painfully shy and as such had gained a reputation as a bit of a loner with friends few and far between. Admirers were hardly deterred by this, however, and due to the snobby, pretentious tendencies of a number of the other girls this truthfully made the eleventh grader even more desirable in the eyes of some. To call her a pretty girl would be a drastic understatement - long black hair that rippled and cascaded down her back and over her shoulders, smooth skin tanned a perfect bronze from her mixed Chinese and Native American heritage, warm and gentle brown eyes that shone with life and curiosity coupled with a slight wry smile, not to mention a figure nicely defined for her age - and in addition to her immense physical beauty she was easily one of the smartest kids in her grade (perhaps even the whole school) and skilled in practical applications, having won the annual science fair every year since her arrival, as well as artistically talented, being occasionally called upon by the director of the concert band to compose short scores or modify existing ones in addition to her numerous paintings and artsy photographs decorating the halls. For whatever reason, though, not a single person - not even Colin Carwell, the school's star runningback who was, to the school's female population, what Erika was to the boys - had been able to obtain a date with her, though this had been for the most part brushed off as her shyness getting the better of her and still hopefuls remained, vying competitively for her attention.
Cora, on the other hand, was a teacher rather than a student, the youngest in the History department, where old Mr. Norton had taught for nearly 40 years and was pushing 70, and among the most youthful staff members throughout the whole building. Not yet out of her twenties, the close age proximity to her students meant that she shared a number of common interests with them, and it wasn't uncommon to see groups of kids in her room after school hours discussing anything from the latest episodes of popular TV series to the best strategies for vanquishing difficult video game bosses, growing her popularity until she was one of the most beloved teachers in the school. She too was rather attractive - silken, cream-colored skin, pixie-short strawberry blonde hair, intelligent and cat-like green eyes that sparkled with a mischievous gleam - and this made her an instant hit among the guys, yet like Erika she seemed uninterested in dating and had no husband or boyfriend that anyone knew of, dropping the subject almost immediately if and when it ever came up. Such actions were regarded with a considerably larger amount of suspicion (though still relatively small) than those of Pine Creek's unofficial darling...After all, what did a pretty, outgoing woman like her have to fear from dating?
Well, fear was an entirely incorrect descriptor, and the answer was so simple she hardly believed that no one had guessed it yet - to put it lightly, which seemed to be the societal norm these days, her romantic tastes were for less conventional fare. After months of careful observation she was sure that Erika's alignment fell much the same way as her own, and it was this certainty that had led her to set in motion the events that will be relegated shortly, for though by no means a pedophile (or ephebophile, rather, as the proper term for someone attracted to teenagers was) her research, which had begun as a half-serious attempt to prove a theory, had brought the hope for new love into her life in the form of Erika Cho.
With the coming of spring after a long and bitterly cold winter, the days had slowly but surely warmed to allow for more season-appropriate attire, which the students adapted to with much enthusiasm. For a girl as shy and docile as she is, Cora had thought on more than one occasion, she sure has a tendency to dress a bit promiscuously...
Not that she was complaining.
For one reason or another perpetual cold dominated the building's History wing, and so Erika's apparel consisted of a two-tone maroon jacket overlapping a plain black tank top that hugged and nicely accentuated her body's contours as well as painfully short jean shorts that revealed far more of her long, tanned legs than they concealed, with knee-length white tube socks and black hi-top Converses rounding things out. Yeah, she looked pretty damn cute, and therein lay the problem - either through some twist of fate or cruel irony (Cora hadn't decided which), she was seated in the very front row, right smack in front of her desk, which on some days made getting any work done damn near impossible.
As it happened today was one of those days, for even despite the jacket the girl shivered slightly from the cold, with goosebumps speckling her exposed thighs like a miniature mountain range, and Cora found her eyes tracing the individual elevations for as long as they could before Erika's gaze shifted randomly in her direction and she was forced to look away. Such a sweet girl, and so, so beautiful...It was a shame to have to trick her and lie to her, but she saw no other way they could be together; the social dynamic between them already abolished any chance of maintaining a traditional relationship. It hardly mattered...A little dishonesty was nothing next to what their mutual happiness would mean. As she smirked slightly to herself she glanced back up at Erika, and for the briefest of moments they met each other's gaze, a sudden knot of self-loathing tightening in her gut as the teenager offered her a sweetly innocent and unknowing smile.
Being both a Friday and the last class of the day the majority of the students were out the door before Cora could so much as bid them a fun and safe weekend, and before long the only people besides herself remaining in the room were Erika and one of her few close friends, an attractive but slightly loud-mouthed girl named Amber Riley. For several moments she bit her tongue and watched them talk, waiting for them to finish their conversation when she could wait no longer, approaching the duo.
"Yes, Miss Fields?" Internally she was ready to scream from excitement at the thought of the moment she had planned and obsessed over for weeks finally coming to bear, but externally she was calm and collected, her expression one of slight concern as the girl turned to face her. Almost instantly, her cheerful mood vanished and was replaced by one of nervous confusion.
"I-is something wrong..?"
Sidestepping the question, she turned to address Amber. "Amber, would you excuse us?"
"Uh, sure..." The two friends bid each other a quick farewell before the other teenager stepped out the door, with Cora moving to lock it behind her only seconds later. This was it...The moment of truth. No redoes, she reminded herself silently, so don't back down and don't fuck it up.
"Am I in trouble..?" Already she could hear the frightful anxiety permeating the girl's voice, which was good...Fear would be key to controlling the situation.
"Sit down, please." She watched her uncertainly comply, pulling up a chair from a nearby student desk, before settling down in her own seat across the paper-covered table. Several seemingly eternal seconds ticked by in interminable silence before either of them spoke again.
"Cora, please...Miss Fields makes me sound old."
"Okay, um..." She hesitated momentarily. "Can I ask what this is about...?"
"Ah, yes..." Showtime.
Withdrawing a plain manila envelope stuffed to the brim with photographs cut from computer print-outs, she handed it to Erika and watched her facial expression shift from shock to outright horror as she examined each individual image in rapid succession. It was a natural reaction, she would imagine, to the contents - inside were what, to the untrained eye, would appear to be several full-frontal nudity shots that depicted the teen on her knees atop a tousled and unmade bed, hands resting on her thighs and smiling brightly at the camera - in reality it was merely her face cut off of one image and attached to others that had been carefully and painstakingly photoshopped to make them look as believable as possible to lend a greater chance of success to her plot.
"This morning I attempted to log into my e-mail and set off some sort of Trojan horse virus, as instead it brought me directly to a site featuring these...Given their nature, I thought it best to bring their existence to your attention when I could do so privately and discreetly."
"N-no, this...This can't be..! I don't understand...I-I never..." Great hot tears of bewilderment, rage, and sheer panic streamed down her cheeks as the envelope slipped from her hand, and she quickly buried her face in her palms as silent sobs wracked her body. "God...What am I going to do..?"
Things were moving along more smoothly than Cora could have ever dreamed...It was time for Phase Two.
"I know it looks bad..." Leaning forward across the desk, she took Erika's small, soft hand in her own, stroking its anterior side gently in a manner she hoped could pass for comforting. "but I don't want you to panic just yet. No one else that I know of has reported similar problems, so I'm fairly certain you and I are the only ones who have seen these aside from their creator. I know you, Erika...You're not that kind of girl."
"Y-you believe me..?"
"I do..." The teenager's trust and unwavering belief were almost hers...All that was left was the icing on the cake.
"Listen...I think I can prove that these are fake."
"What?" That got her attention. "How..?!"
"Believe it or not, this isn't the first time I've seen this. The same thing happened to a friend of mine in college, and being a computer programming major she created something that could successfully combat it at the source...After resolving her issue she copied the program and gave it to me, in the event that something similar should ever occur to me or anyone else."
"How does it work?"
"I can't tell you that...Not here, at least. On a scale of one to illegal it scores off the charts, but if it works correctly there should be an added benefit of the pictures being removed from the site as well..."
Noticing a darkening in Erika's already opaque expression a wave of paranoia inwardly washed over her, with the outward action culminating in a tilting of her head from lack of understanding not completely faked. "Something wrong?"
"It's just...Suppose this doesn't work like it's supposed to. If and when this ever comes out, wouldn't I be in greater trouble for trying to illegally cover it up..? I think maybe I should just go to the police..."
Second thoughts...They never failed, a desperate search for the most logical solution that inevitably made all solutions appear inherently illogical. Hers had come on strong and quite suddenly, and it was now very possible that Cora's next words could make or break the entire plot.
"I'm not going to lie to you, Erika..." The hell with that...That ship sailed a while ago, she thought as she adopted a tone of mock seriousness and rose, her face darkening to match her vocal inflection. "Whatever you decide will carry risks with it; I agree that going to the police would be the logical, if not the right, next step. And maybe they'll be able to crack the case. Maybe they'll prove that the images are fakes, maybe they'll find out who engineered them, maybe they'll manage to remove them or at least shut the site down...But how long will it take? If it were some keyboard-happy stalker, a week or two at the most, but this is someone who deliberately attacked you with the intent of detrimental harm to your character...He wouldn't be foolish enough to allow himself to get caught that easily. Not to mention investigating and prosecuting a case like this could take months, years even, all the while your reputation gradually grows more and more tarnished...And even when the verdict is handed down, the damage is already done. Those who have viewed the image can't un-see it, all the times it's been copied and reposted and downloaded can't be undone...What then?" Swiveling back around, she fixed the girl with an intensely unwavering glare through which compassion and sympathy still slipped out through the cracks. "I'm not saying my way is the best way, or the only way...I'm not saying it's the moral way, the legal way, or even the right way. The only thing I offer you is a swifter and, potentially, far less personally painful resolution to this problem...The choice is up to you."
She watched breathlessly for several long moments as Erika's eyes shifted towards the ground, the gears turning in her mind practically visible as she thought it over, then felt her heart skip a beat from relief and elation as she nodded in approval.
"Okay...What would you have me do..?"
Cora allowed herself to smile, just a little. "We'll need somewhere that we can discuss this further, plan out how this'll happen and over how much time...It shouldn't be either of our homes, though, that'll look far too suspicious. And we can't exactly go anywhere public either, considering the topic...We'll need neutral ground."
"Sounds like you already have somewhere in mind..."
"I do...Do you know the Sunrise Motel down on Jefferson?"
"I think I've seen it a few times...It's on the edge of town, right?"
"That's the one. Their rates are hourly, so I'm thinking we meet up there and try to work out a solution. I can't guarantee I'll get a certain room, so you'll probably be better off asking for Ardelia at the front desk...That's the name I'll be checking in under."
"Why not your own name?" Oh shit. She knew she had forgotten something, but this was no time to fall apart...Not when she was so close. Come on, Cora...Surely that improv unit in high school drama was for something.
"I want to help you, Erika, but in order for me to be able to do that I must operate under complete anonymity...The fix to your problem I've suggested not withholding, I could be in serious legal trouble for knowing about and possessing these photos without informing the police. I want to help you, but no one must know that I was the source of said help...Do you understand?"
In almost perfect synch they rose, and with a slow and methodical pace Cora traversed the room to unlock the door, taking note of the visibly rattled look in Erika's eyes as she moved to join her. Again assuming the comforter role, her hand lighted down on the girl's shoulder in a reassuring manner.
"Don't worry, Erika...One way or another, we'll get this sorted out." Forcibly nodding in an attempt to share in the optimism, the teenager's eyes swiftly grew wet once again as she wrapped Cora in a tight, unexpected but welcome hug.
"It's my pleasure..." Being slightly taller, she smiled down at her while gently peeling her off. "See you tonight."
The instant that Erika was out the door and out of sight and earshot was the same instant that Cora's cool façade finally crumbled, her knees nearly buckling beneath her from sheer disbelief and delight, and at the last second she threw out a hand to a nearby desk to steady herself and halt her fall. Hard part's over...she thought, laughing aloud incredulously as she settled back down in her chair. Smooth sailing from here on out.
Several hours later.
Unable to sleep and with nothing worthwhile on TV, time had drawn out like a blade for Cora as she anxiously awaited Erika's arrival (far too excited to think about anything else, she had arrived at the hotel not twenty minutes after their conversation), alone with her thoughts and longing that intensified with every passing second. Outside, the soft rumble of an approaching car engine drew her from her prone position on the bed to the shaded window, and through a crack in the blinds she witnessed a well-maintained grey, late-2000s Pontiac enter the parking lot before its familiar driver emerged into the cool night air and walked off towards the office in search of the manager, a momentary pang of desire and anticipation encompassing her thoughts as she briefly envisioned an exaggerated, porno-style washing of the vehicle by the teenager on a hot summer day. Through the rather thin door the sound of footsteps approached, her breath catching in her throat as they drew ever nearer, and a soft knock signaled the moment that she had poured so much energy and effort into finally coming to fruition.
As soon as the door was open she was upon her, pulling the girl into a deep and passionate kiss that blasted away the years of hiding and fleeting, fledgling love inevitably killed by social inacceptance each and every solitary time, before after several seconds Erika attempted to pull away and found her body pinned to Cora's by the tight and unrelenting grip of the latter's arms.
"Miss Fields, what...What are you doing..?"
"Shh..." As one hand slowly, hungrily made its way down the teen's side, eventually reaching her bare thigh, the index finger from the other was raised to her lips in a silencing manner, soft lips planting gentle, flirtatious kisses upon the side of her neck. "Don't fight it...You've been fighting it and hiding it far too long already. You can't deny that you want this to happen...So let it."
"I-I don't know what you're talking about..."
Again the carnivorous digits began to move across her flawless figure, too paralyzed with confusion and shock to resist, in opposite directions as the right, previously occupied with quieting her protest that grew dimmer and dimmer, dropped down to find a handhold in the form of a supple breast and the left snaked around her waist before slipping smoothly inside a back pocket of her jean shorts.
"Yes you do...Don't get me wrong, I understand why you did it. You were afraid, afraid of the backlash that might follow if you were to pursue those whom you truly desired, from your family and your friends and the people you had grown up with...What would they think of you then..?" Forced by her struggles to adapt a different, firmer and more powerful holding, Cora rested her chin on the girl's shoulder, whispering near-inaudibly into her ear. "They can't possibly understand even if they wanted to, because they haven't been in your shoes...But I have. And here I am, in this moment, ready to accept you for who and what you are...Because you're quite possibly the sweetest and single most beautiful girl I've ever met."
Making one final, half-hearted attempt to break free of Cora's grip, Erika fell still and smiled bashfully, her cheeks reddening as she met the former's gaze. "You really think I'm pretty..?"
"What do you think?" A tentative re-attempt of the initial kiss was, to her great joy, returned with little hesitation (if any), and as if sharing the same mindset their legs carried them backwards towards the bed until their momentum brought them down on top of the mattress; smiling down at her younger lover from her position just above her, the former gently brushed a stray strand of hair from the latter's face before tracing the soft curve of her jawline with one finger.
"Just to clarify...You're the one who created the photos, weren't you..?"
"Clever girl...You caught me."
"Heh..." She was silent a long moment. "...I'm glad you did it."
The kisses, deeper and sweeter than the previous ones more experimental in nature, took on a frantic and almost frenzied quality as eager, groping hands stripped away various garments to leave nothing beneath but bare, smooth skin that was soft and warm to the touch. Startled by a sudden blast of chilly air sneezed out by the nearby air conditioner and its subsequent dance across her exposed chest, Erika's arms moved on instinct to cover and shield herself from the cold but were stopped by Cora gently yet firmly grabbing her wrists, pinning them to the mattress.
"You don't have to hide yourself, okay..? Not anymore."
"That's not what I-" she grinned, amused. "I-I was just cold..."
"Well, let's see if we can't do something about that, shall we..?"
Starting at her neck, she slowly kissed her way down the length of the teen's midsection, stopping momentarily just above her stomach to cup and gently squeeze each breast while teasing the nipples with her index fingers, before fumbling with the button of her shorts and sliding them off with a bit of awkward difficulty. The undergarment she found beneath was about on par with what she had expected, but still it surprised and amused her in a way she couldn't quite describe.
"Lace, eh..? Interesting choice...But I like it." She winked at the younger girl, and the twosome burst out into uncontrollable laughter; almost subconsciously Cora noticed a quickening of her partner's pulse coinciding with her breathing growing heavier, and for a long moment met her gaze.
"You're a virgin, aren't you?"
A soft chuckle. "It's not a problem, just that...You're way too tense to have ever done this before. Are you worried?"
"A little nervous, I guess...Does it hurt..?"
"It can, but I'm not gonna go that hard...We can take it slow, at your pace."
The next hours were spent in untold bliss.
In between bouts of passion they had somehow made their way from atop the covers to underneath them, and it was during one of these interludes that they had simply lain exhausted in each other's arms, discussing any topic they could think of before Erika had eventually succumbed to sleep and nestled soundly in the crook of Cora's shoulder. Again alone with her thoughts, the first that came to mind was something the girl had said earlier that evening: I'm glad you did it. Sweet vindication, she mused with a smile, and planted a light kiss on the forehead of the snoozing teenager. Her plan had worked to perfection, and both of them were now all the happier for it; she always got what she wanted, by any means necessary.
"The art of pleasing is the art of deception." - Luc de Clapiers