Textbook Love Affair

A 39-year-old teacher falls in love with his 17-year-old student, and everybodys life goes a little crazy

Steve says he was troubled by his growing attraction to Sarah. On the last day of class when Sarah turned in her final exam, he followed her out of the classroom.

"How do you think you did?" he asked her in the hall. He told her that he'd enjoyed having her in the class and he wished her the best. She said the same. And then, suddenly, as he said in an e-mail to the Hassons, he "panicked at the thought of someone so special just walking away."

"I know I'm like a hundred years old," he said, "but if you'd like to get coffee and play chess sometime, let me know."

Sarah told him that she'd like to, but she was grounded for the time and then she was going to Arizona for a month to visit her dad. But maybe when she got back?

They exchanged e-mail addresses.

Sarah e-mailed first, a few days later. "I don't know, I guess I missed him, too," she says. They kept in touch via e-mail. Steve sent her a math problem.

Sometime in August, they planned to meet for coffee at a Starbucks in Irvine.

On the last day of summer school, she'd told her mother that he had asked her to coffee. Sallie called Sarah's father in Tucson and discussed the matter. They permitted one meeting in a public place. Sallie says she figured Steve was "in his late 20s or early 30s." (Sarah says her mother thought Steve was 34.)

Before Sarah left the house, she went into Sallie and Jerry's bedroom to say goodbye.

"Jerry has a question for you before you go," Sarah remembers Sallie telling her.

"So, Sarah," he asked, "has Steve asked you yet if you're a virgin?"

As she often did when she was uncomfortable, Sarah just started laughing. (Jerry agrees this exchange took place but says it happened after he'd met with Steve.)

When Sarah and Steve met at the coffeehouse, they played chess. They talked about age differences—not between the two of them, but in general. And then Steve told her that he was feeling confused because he was attracted to her and didn't know what to do. Sarah grew quiet. Steve regretted saying anything.

Shortly after the coffee date, Sarah e-mailed Steve and let him know that she, too, was attracted to him. The next time they met—again at a coffeehouse—Sarah told Steve that when Sallie and Jerry had found out that Steve was 39, they had forbidden the relationship.

Steve sat for at least 10 minutes without speaking. "It's up to you," he finally said.

"I've already made my decision," she said. "I came here tonight even though I wasn't supposed to."

That night, Steve kissed Sarah. "You know," he says, "I've kissed a handful of girls in my life, I suppose, and a lot of times you don't feel anything. This wasn't like that. I felt something."

Sallie suspected the two were meeting. She and Jerry caught Sarah lying. Sarah was argumentative and condescending. Sarah was breaking house rules. They took away her car and put her on what they called "house arrest," but Sarah didn't seem to care. They told her they were going to "deport" her to Arizona. They told her they would no longer support her. They wouldn't send her to Europe as they'd promised. They made her sign a contract. They threatened to take her to a doctor to see if she was still a virgin and have her checked for STDs.

Sarah told them they were being ridiculous. She told her mother that she no longer respected her. The next day, they told her she was being sent to Arizona to live with her father.

In the early '90s, Sallie Hasson was, according to Sarah, "the perfect single mom." Attentive, intelligent and responsible, she raised Sarah and her younger sister Danielle while ascending the ranks of corporate America. She traveled a lot for business, but, according to Sarah, "she was there when she could be."

Sometime later, Sallie met Jerry David Hasson, who was going through a divorce. The two were soon married, and Jerry moved into Sallie's Irvine home.

Around the house, Sarah bristled over Jerry's rules, his labeling his sodas and food, the way he intimidated the girls' friends. He had a locked office that the girls were forbidden to enter; he'd lock the door, hide the key and put a piece of clear tape on the door so he'd know if someone had tried to enter.

Jerry once showed the kids plans he'd drafted, costing upward of $25,000, of his dream home—ornate, with waterfalls coming down the staircase. He'd made a table-sized model of the design, but his ex-wife smashed it in a fit of rage.

Sallie told the story to the kids to illustrate what a horrible woman his ex-wife had been, but Sarah says she understood why the woman would do such a thing.

When Sarah was 12, she and a friend sneaked out of the house and toilet-papered another classmate's house. They did this three nights in a row. The family whose house had been toilet-papered called the police. Sarah says she remembers Jerry telling the cops to let Sarah spend a night in jail. (Jerry says he doesn't recall the event.) Sallie told Sarah that she understood, that Sarah was just lashing out at the popular kids because she was jealous.

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