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Naked Imagination

Jane Dole. Even her name was boring. Richard wondered how she ever managed to gain tenure. She never lectured, just read from the history text in a dull monotone, managing to set aside a half hour at the end of each class to ask a few totally irrelevant questions just to make sure you had been listening.

Richard wasn't the only one who found her boring. Professor Dole was a joke on campus. Those unfortunate enough to land in her lecture hall were always given a mock funeral at the Bee Hive when the semester started. If you lasted the entire semester and copped more than a D, you were the guest of honor at a huge celebration also held at the Bee Hive. It had been a tradition at Tarleton University ever since Jane Dole had taught her first class in American history.

Richard checked the time and moaned. In less than an hour he would be back in Jane Dole's lecture hall fighting off sleep. How he would love to skip her class, but he couldn't afford to. If he didn't come out with an A, he would lose his scholarship. Without a college education, he would end up like the rest of his family--laboring away in the steel mill for the rest of his life just to eke out a miserable living.

Heather Franklin whisked through the Bee Hive door and waved. Richard smiled and motioned her to his table, watching her weave through the crowded room acknowledging greetings with her winning smile and a nod of her red head.

Heather reached the table. She dropped her backpack and straddled the chair opposite Richard. "Why the sour face?"

"History today," he replied rolling back his eyes.

"Say no more." Heather pulled a out a sandwich and popped the top on a Dr. Pepper. "I'm just glad I got it out of the way last semester. Cheer up, it won't last forever."

Richard took a bite of his burger. "Every class with humdrum Dole is a forever."

Heather laughed and unwrapped her sandwich. Richard couldn't help but smile. Peanut butter and brown sugar. Even in high school she had always brought a peanut butter and brown sugar sandwich to lunch every day.

"One of these days you're going to turn into peanut butter and brown sugar," he teased.

"Great," Heather chuckled. "I'll have an endless supply."

Richard joined in her laughter momentarily, then frowned. "How did you manage to pass her class?"

"Got lucky I guess."

"Seriously, Heather."

"I am serious. It was the final that did it. She only asked one question, and I got it right."

"One question!" Richard exclaimed. "What?"

"If life began with you, how would you handle not having a past?"

"That was it?"

"Uh huh."

"What did you say?"

"Said I would make my own history because my actions would reflect on future generations. Stuff like that. She loved it."

"You're right," Richard sighed. "You did get lucky."

"Make a game of it," Heather advised. "Forget memorizing dates. She never asks for them anyway. All she's interested in is how history affects us today. That's why she's so boring. Who gives a rat's ass about what happened two hundred years ago?"

"Nobody I know." Richard downed the rest of his burger and gulped his drink. "A game eh?" He glanced at his watch again, then gathered up his books. "Well, gotta go. Wish me luck."

Heather smiled and patted his hand. "You got it. Friends to the end, remember?"

Richard grinned. They had made a pact after reading The Three Musketeers the summer they turned twelve. No matter what, they would always be friends. One for all, and all for one they had promised. There were just two of them now. Joel had died following an automobile accident. But somehow his death had drawn them even closer. Richard nodded and gave Heather a thumbs up. "Friends to the end. You bet!"

He left the Bee Hive and headed straight to the lecture hall, arriving before the rest of his classmates. Instead of his usual back row seat, Richard chose a seat on the front row and sat down to plan his strategy. What kind of game would he play? He usually daydreamed about the girls in class, making up little scenarios about them. He was damn good at it, too. At least it kept him awake.

Miss Dole entered the lecture hall and smiled at him. Suddenly Richard knew how to stay focused on her. He imagined her nude and much younger. He nodded his head and returned her smile. Wow! He was sure she blushed. Did she know he was imagining her naked as the day she was born? Cool. He was going to like this game.

The others arrived and Miss Dole strolled over to the lecture stand. But in Richard's mind, she was slinking sensuously across the stage of his naked drama.

"Turn to page ninety-eight and follow along with me," Miss Dole said. A collective sigh rose from bored students as pages flipped. But Richard smiled expectantly, taking it as an invitation from a naked lady. Where would she take him?

"Continuing with the War Between the States," Miss Dole said, and began reading. "Women on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line played a big part in the war. Many were successful as spies, managing to infiltrate enemy lines quite easily in order to access medicines and military information..."

A spy! That's it Richard mused. Jane Dole is a spy. She makes herself up to look old, but she's really a blushing rose from some old Southern family with a heritage longer than my...uh...er...than her lectures. Richard grinned. A naked spy! Who would have guessed it. And he was the Yankee officer she was out to pump for information. Perfect. A fantasy began to unfold in his head building in momentum as Miss Dole read from the text. Suddenly the Civil War became very real to Richard Stanton.

It was November 1864 and Atlanta had fallen to General Sherman. Richard was a lieutenant in Company G, Fourth Regiment, Iowa Infantry, XV Army Corps. As the troops prepared to move to Savannah, General Sherman entrusted a dispatch to him for General Grant. Armed with confidence, Richard mounted his steed and galloped away.

He was miles into his journey, watering his horse at a creek when he saw Jane Dole. She was a fragile creature, appearing on the bank like a wood nymph. Totally naked, a dazed expression on her face, she stooped and drank greedily. When she straightened up, she saw him and fled into the woods.

Richard ran after her, catching her quickly. "What are you doing here?" he demanded, his hands clutching her arms tightly.

Jane blushed and tried to cover her nakedness. "I'm trying to get home, but I...I...."

"Where's home?" Richard asked, reveling in the feel of her flesh.

"Portland."

"Maine!" Richard gasped. "What are you doing down here?"

"My husband," she whimpered. "I got word he was captured and taken to Andersonville Prison. I brought money to secure his release, but I was robbed and...and raped...." She broke down and started crying.

Richard imagined Southern trash pawing and raping her, and pulled Jane to his chest in an effort to comfort her. "Damn Butternuts!" he cursed. "You shouldn't have come alone."

"I know," Jane replied sniffing and wiping her eyes. "But I couldn't just let him die in that prison. He needs medicine. I had morphine, but they took it all." She burst into a fresh flood of tears.

"Don't cry," Richard said. He released her and removed his jacket, draping it across her shoulders. Jane pulled it around her protectively. "I've got hardtack in my saddle bags if you're hungry." He produced it when Jane nodded.

She ate the hardtack quickly, chasing it down with gulps of creek water. "I'm keeping you from you duties," she said.

Richard knew she was, but he couldn't just leave her alone in the woods. No telling what the Rebs would do to her if they found her again. "I'm delivering dispatches to General Grant, but a couple hours delay won't matter."

"General Grant?" Jane's eyes widened in surprise. "Surely they're important!"

Richard shook his head. "Probably just stats about Atlanta and plans for the march to Savannah."

"Savannah!" Jane exclaimed.

"Savannah," Richard confirmed. "Going to burn a path right across Georgia all the way to the ocean. Rebs won't have much fight left when their stomachs are empty."

"It's such a waste," Jane said sadly.

"A waste?"

"I was referring to the loss of lives. The Rebs are bound to fight back."

Richard nodded. "We won't encounter much resistance. Sherman's splitting our forces into four units. They won't be expecting that."

Night was coming on. It was senseless trying to travel undetected through strange dark woods. The Rebs would have the advantage, them knowing the terrain better. "Get some rest," Richard said. Tomorrow I'll try to scour up a horse and see if I can't get you back to our lines."

Jane nodded. She curled up beside Richard drawing the blanket he had given her together to cover her slender legs. "Thank you, lieutenant. I don't know how to tell you how glad I am you came along."

"Think nothing of it," Richard said. "When I reach General Grant, I'll see what I can do for your husband, too."

"You're too kind. But I appreciate your concern. Maybe the general can arrange a parole for my husband."

Richard nodded sadly. He didn't want to tell her Grant had ordered no more paroles for Union prisoners. Every Reb exchanged for a Union soldier ended up on the front lines again while the Union men returned to their homes depleted. If her husband was still alive, which Richard doubted since he was at Andersonville, he would never be paroled because he would be in no condition to fight anymore.

Jane drifted off to sleep while Richard kept watch. Cooler air emerged from the deepening shadows and stars begin to appear. It was peaceful in the woods, almost as if a war wasn't going on at all. Richard gazed into the stars until his eyes closed in welcome relief.

He woke up suddenly, his arm draped protectively around Jane, her body pressed tight against his. In the misty light of false dawn Richard forgot everything except his sudden urgent need. He pulled Jane closer and kissed her cheek, his hands caressing her shapely body. Jane responded in a sleepy daze, opening herself to his exploring hands.

"I'm sorry," Richard apologized when the passion subsided. "I shouldn't have taken advantage of you like that."

Jane put her fingers to his lips. "Don't apologize. These are passionate times, lieutenant. What we shared was only a brief moment in our lives, a resurrection of something good in the face of this terrible war." She drew the blanket around her and reached for Richard's borrowed jacket. "Any more of that hardtack left?"

Richard smiled and dug in his haversack. He wished he had something else to offer her. At least this hardtack wasn't infested with maggots. Worm castles the troops grudgingly called them. But when that was all that stood between you and an empty belly, worm castles or not, it was nourishment. "Soon as we wash this down we need to get moving."

It was almost noon when they heard a commotion in the distance. Richard hid Jane and the horse, then scurried away to investigate. As luck would have it, he discovered a regiment of Union soldiers. He reported to the officer in command and explained his predicament. Soon he was rushing back to Jane with clothes borrowed from the camp's laundress.

"Our troops," he grinned widely. "Got you some clothes. And Major Riles said he can spare two men to see you safely back to our lines."

Jane took the clothes eagerly. "I can't thank you enough lieutenant. But what about my husband?"

"No problem," Richard said. "Major Riles will see to it that he receives some morphine."

"How?"

"The major is sending out a couple of scouts disguised as Rebs to carry vital correspondence. They'll take the morphine for you. You can send along a note to your husband, too."

"I can't thank you enough." Jane threw her arms around Richard's neck and hugged him affectionately.

"Better get dressed."

Jane waved goodbye when Richard rode out of camp carrying his dispatches for General Grant, then turned to Major Riley. "If you would be so kind as to supply me with paper and pen, Major, I'll write that letter to my husband.

"No hurry," Major Riley replied. "The courier isn't leaving till morning. There's plenty of time."

Richard delivered his dispatches the following afternoon. After filling his belly, he stretched out to rest. A smile crossed his face when his thoughts turned to the beautiful woman he had rescued from the Rebs.

Major Riley wasn't sharing Richard's smile. He had awakened that morning only to learn that every vial of morphine in the camp had disappeared. And not just morphine, but all his maps and dispatches, not to mention the lovely Miss Dole.

Jane was miles away galloping back to Milledgeville on the major's strong mount, anxious to deliver the stolen morphine to wounded Southern soldiers in Georgia. Of equal importance to the Southern cause were the maps and dispatches she had managed to pilfer from Major Riley's tent. She hadn't taken Richard's dispatches. But she had memorized them while he slept. Maybe there was a way to stop Sherman from reaching Savannah. .

"So you see women played a vital role in the war effort," Miss Dole droned on. "And not just as nurses and supporters. Tomorrow we will discuss the ramifications of Sherman's scorched earth policy."

"Thank you, Miss Dole," Richard suddenly blurted out.

"For what?" she asked.

"For making history so exciting," Richard grinned, the taste of her spying lips still fresh in his imagination.

"With an attitude like that, you're bound to succeed," Miss Dole said.

"I sure hope so," Richard grinned. "I never knew history was so interesting. It's almost as if we were living it."

Richard didn't miss a single one of Miss Dole's classes after that. Indeed, he could hardly wait to see what precarious situations she would throw them into. His favorite was leading the cavalry into a desert arroyo where Apaches had surrounded her humble cabin. There was a sweet rescue if ever there was one.

When the semester ended, Richard had the sole distinction of being the only student honored at the Bee Hive for copping an A in Miss Dole's class.

"How on earth did you manage to do it?" Heather asked.

"I did what you said--made a game of it," Richard replied. "I just imagined Miss Dole was standing there naked as a jay and beautiful as a spring day."

"Get real!" Heather scoffed. "That would take some imagination."

"Yep," Richard replied breaking out in a wide grin. "Hell of an imagination!"




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