Christmas With the ProfessorBy: Sue Lyndon
“You’re late, Ms. Monroe.” Dr. Taylor’s mouth twisted in a brief smile as he handed me a test.
“Car trouble,” I muttered, feeling the burn of my much younger classmates’ eyes on my back.
He glanced at my feet, and I shifted uncomfortably. My jeans were soaked from the knees down and my fashionable black boots were a watery mess. Damn snow. When my car wouldn’t start this morning, I’d had no choice but to walk all the way from my apartment building to class. Even bad weather and car trouble couldn’t keep me away from my Behavioral Psychology final exam. After four and a half years in college, I was finally going to graduate. This test was the last final of my last semester. Nope. Not even ten feet of snow could keep me away. Bring it on, Mother Nature.
“Good luck on your test.” Dr. Taylor’s gaze swept over me and caused my tummy to flutter.
I clutched my shoulder bag and found a seat before he witnessed my face flushing. The man was magnetic and had a pull on me all semester. One look at his muscular body that filled out his dress shirt and the faded jeans he usually wore was enough to set my pulse racing. It wasn’t just his good looks that turned me weak with need, but the confident way he carried himself and the commanding tone of his deep, gravelly voice. When his attention was focused on me, for however brief a time, I turned into a puddle of nerves and often found it difficult to breathe—let alone speak a coherent sentence.
I breezed through the multiple-choice portion of the test, but by the time I came to the last essay question I was alone in the room with Dr. Taylor. Crap. Nervous as hell, I inhaled deeply and glanced up. Eyes fixed on me, he sat behind his desk with his fingers steepled. The embodiment of authority, I thought.
“Relax, Angela,” he said. “There’s no time limit.”
Flustered, I nodded and leaned over my essay, trying to concentrate. The words ran together and I clutched my pencil, struggling to remember the meaning behind a particular John B. Watson quote. My mind traveled back to the day Dr. Taylor mentioned the quote. He’d been wearing khakis instead of his trademark faded jeans. Holy shit, I had it bad. Well, at least if I could remember the pants my professor wore on that particular day, I could answer the damn question. Careful to keep my handwriting neat, I filled up a page with my response, all the while feeling Dr. Taylor’s intense blue eyes focused on me like a force field closing in.
Confident I’d aced my last final, I collected my things and crossed the room to place my test on the pile on his desk. A surreal moment. The kind of moment that lasts forever. One chapter of my life had ended. I stood before Dr. Taylor in my wet boots, my lips parted slightly as I searched for a memorable way to say goodbye. My chest tightened knowing I wouldn’t see him again. God, what the fuck was my problem? Why couldn’t I just throw my test on the pile and hurry from the room without a backward glance, like every one of my classmates?
“Merry Christmas, Dr. Taylor.” I basked under the warm smile he returned.
“Merry Christmas, Angela.”
Angela. He’d said it again. My full name. Everyone else called me Angie or Ang. The life he breathed into my full name made me feel special and like an idiot at the same time. He was being polite, and I was reading too much into a single word. This kind of wishful thinking was like an arrow through my heart.
I headed for the door, needing to escape as much as I wished to stay. It sucked being pulled in two directions. I was the last few strands of a fraying rope in a game of tug-o-war, barely holding together. I told myself it was a combination of the holidays, graduation, a car on the fritz, and the fact that I’d be spending the next two weeks by myself before my new job started in January. My parents were vacationing in Europe and I was reluctant to spend Christmas with my brother out of state. Flying during the holiday rush held less appeal than a trip to the dentist.
I paused in the doorway, my heart beating out of my chest. “Yes, Dr. Taylor?”
“Look at me when I’m speaking to you.” His tone was clipped.
Shocked, I turned to face him with my best fuck-you glare. A hint of surprise stirred in his eyes for the briefest moment before amusement took over. As he strode from behind his desk toward me, the air went out of the room and the walls closed in. I was suffocating by the time he stopped an arm’s length away, but I kept my chin raised and my eyes steely in the face of his rudeness.
“Do you have a ride home, Ms. Monroe?”
Huh? Taken aback by his question, I twisted my hands together and took a deep, calming breath. “Yes I have a ride home. Uh, my friend is waiting outside the building, so I’d better go.”
“You’re lying.” He folded his arms across his chest and his expression held a note of interest. My little white lie had him captivated, and this realization left me confused and angry.
So what if I didn’t have a friend waiting outside? It was none of his business, and I wasn’t about to ask the professor who starred in most of my late night fantasies for a ride home. I squared my shoulders and smiled, no longer trying to hide my guilt. I could infuse some humor into the tense situation. Yes, humor would save the day.