Fiction: “The Affair That Never Happened”

by: Shelly Phillips

 

Fine.  I’m going to do absolutely fine.

As Alexia Miller steadily made her way down the shaded sidewalk, book bag bouncing with every light step, it occurred to her that her feeble pep talk wasn’t working.  She was still terrified. Was it her imagination, or did she have “FRESHMAN” branded across her forehead for the whole world to see?  None of the other students who were on their way to 8:00 classes looked as apprehensive at she did.  Most weren’t quite awake just yet.  She’d seen a lot of muffled yawns and bleary eyes so far.  A few others walked slowly with a cup of coffee from the student snack bar, taking their precious time in a mellow, calm, don’t-hurry-me daze.

Why am I the only person here who isn’t relaxed?! Alexia silently screamed.

She was supposed to be enjoying college life.  Loving it.  Thriving.  Trouble was, Alexia still felt like a high school student.  She’d only been living with her roommate for two nights now, but already she’d had it.  She wanted her own room again.  More than that, her own bathroom.  Community showers just were not enjoyable and never would be.

“You’ll love college life,” her older brother, Andy, had said time and time again.  Ha.  Love it?  She hated it.

Her first class was HIST 251, American History II, with somebody named Professor Ryan.  Ryan.  That sounded Irish. He’d probably take one look at her and tear her apart.

I don’t belong here. . . .

Like the majority of the freshmen, she’d come to college as undecided—why overtly declare something until she’d dabbled in it further?—but already she was leaning towards history as being her major.  She’d adored social studies in high school, taking every elective and excelling in them all.  Her AP European History exam had been passed with a 5.  All her teachers had loved her.  It wasn’t any surprise, then, that at her senior awards assembly, she’d been the unanimous choice for the history department award.

Yes, she had definitely been Miss History Buff in high school.  But college was different.  She was swimming with the big fish now, not a bunch of brainless plankton who wouldn’t know Thomas Jefferson from Elvis Presley.  Alexia wasn’t stupid; she knew what lay ahead.   But that didn’t mean she liked it.

Finally she reached the tall brick building where her class was held.  She and a tall, thin girl dressed in trendy semi-hippiesh garbs–a popular look on campus, Alexia had observed–arrived at the building entrance at the same time.

“What class?” the girl asked, noting the petrified look on Alexia’s face.

“Ummm . . . American History II.”

“With Ryan?”

“Yeah.”

“Me too.  History major?”

This seemed to be the question everyone asked each other upon meeting at college.  Alexia answered as she had to numerous other people the last three days: “Well . . . right now, I’m undecided.”

“Uh-huh,” the girl drawled out, bemused.  “Well, I’m aiming towards history—that, or political science. It’s always been my thing, you know?”

“Really?” Alexia asked as she followed the girl up a long, narrow stairway.  Then she inquired, “Do you think this class will be hard?”  She hated to voice this question aloud–after all, this was college; classes weren’t supposed to be a breeze.  But she wanted to know anyway.

“Yeah,” the girl answered immediately.  “My roommate had this class last year.  You get a lot of work.  Reading, mostly.  And the tests are pretty taxing, she said.”

“How’s the teacher?  I mean, the professor?”

“Ryan?  Oh, he’s good enough, I guess.  But a little too conservative, if you know what I mean.”

“Sure,” said Alexia, although she didn’t.

After reaching the fourth floor, Alexia followed her fellow student down a long, carpeted hallway until they reached room 205.

“Here we are,” the girl announced.

“Oh . . . ,” said Alexia.

The girl opened the door and entered with ease.  Alexia came in behind her, wide-eyed and afraid but trying as hard as she could to look nonchalant.  The classroom was just like all of the other college classrooms she’d seen so far: large, with plenty of windows, seats for up to fifty people, and a sort of lecture space in the front of the room where the professor would dialogue to his students.

Alexia quickly slid into the first empty seat she saw, in the second row.  OK, she told herself, OK.   I’m going to be all right.  Yeah. . . .

She opened up her book bag and took out a pen and a notebook, which she quickly placed on her desk.

At the sound of the door opening, Alexia glanced up to see a man she presumed to be Professor Ryan enter the room.

He didn’t appear as formidable as she’d initially thought.  During her restless, sleepless night (who can sleep on the night before classes start, anyway?), she’d imagined him to be a white-haired, conceited old scholar with one of those hoity-toity condescending attitudes particular of Harvard alum and a stuffy, drawling voice reminiscent of “Masterpiece Theatre.” But Professor Ryan, like all of the students (except Alexia), seemed very relaxed.  He was medium height and weight, in his late thirties or early forties, she guessed, wearing a white shirt, a tie, and slacks.  His looks were nondescript, sort of everyday.  He had wavy brown hair and a stubbly looking beard.

Professor Ryan introduced himself and gave a brief explanation of his teaching methods. Then he passed out a syllabus to his forty-plus students.  After reviewing it, he cleared his throat and started the class.

Alexia, along with all of the other students, took out the history book she’d purchased and flipped to the page he instructed.  As he lectured, Alexia wrote down everything he said in her notebook.  His teaching style was normal, comfortable, familiar.  This isn’t so bad, she thought.

At some point during the class, the professor stopped lecturing and either asked the class a question or let someone contribute a point.  Alexia was stunned to hear her classmates around her rattling off historical knowledge off the top of their heads with the vocabulary of a Jane Austen novel.  Even the tall hippie girl she’d followed to class had something to say. Her remark was clear, intelligent, and made Alexia want to crawl into a hole and go back to the happy-go-lucky la-la land of high school.

*

During the next month and a half, Alexia found herself falling into the role of an average student.  In all of her classes, she quietly took notes, paid attention, and did the class work, never going out of her way to call attention to herself.  Her grades were good, but not stellar.  For the first time, she wasn’t the only student in the class pulling off near-perfects on papers and tests.  In fact, she soon discovered that scoring above 95 was a lot harder in college than in high school.  Her grades now were solid A’s and B’s—like her attitude in class, nothing to brag about.

Alexia wasn’t sure what to make of Professor Ryan.  He seemed like a decent teacher, not particularly eccentric or anything like that.  She still didn’t understand quite what the hippie girl–Daisy, her name was–had meant when she said he was too conservative.  But, no matter.

When her first paper for American History II was assigned in October, Alexia didn’t make a flashy to-do about the topic she had chosen.  Other over-achieving students in the class, however, never ceased to brag about theirs.  Alexia couldn’t figure out where they had ever thought of such unique, interesting topics.  One guy was researching what had happened to the Roanoke Colony; another was looking into exactly what impact Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” had had on the lives of Jews during the Depression.  Professor Ryan had been very pleased when he found out that Daisy’s topic was, in her exact words, “How the United States corrupted and exploited the lives of Alaskan Inuit women, taking away their cultural identity and leaving them to do nothing but cling to a dying past with an shameful form of nostalgia and simultaneously try desperately to catch up with the rest of the country.”

Alexia never discussed hers with anyone.

For about two weeks, she spent her days hunched over old textbooks at the college library and her nights staring at a glowing computer screen while surfing the Web.  She found more than enough information for her paper, and by the time she finally put all of her notes and ideas into words, she’d produced twenty-five pages of what she thought to be satisfying–though not amazing–work.  When Alexia turned in her paper along with the rest of her classmates one cool October morning, she wasn’t expecting much.  Hopefully an A- or a B+ at best.  Nothing to get worked up about.

Hence why she was surprised a week later when Professor Ryan said asked to see her about her paper after class.

She walked uncertainly up to his desk, very confused.  What did he want?  Was her paper really that terrible after all, her topic that inane and ordinary?

He was reading her paper as she approached.  Her heart began to hammer when she noticed that he’d underlined many of her sentences and scribbled in lots of comments with bright red ink.  No.  She couldn’t have gotten an F . . . could she?  But why?  She’d worked so hard on this stupid paper!  But perhaps all of her hard work didn’t cut it in college.

But she couldn’t fail—she just couldn’t!  She was here on a scholastic scholarship, and if she failed one class, it was bye-bye, money and hello, flipping burgers at McDonald’s for the rest of her life.

Alexia just stood there, lips pursed, arms wrapped tensely across her chest, trying to guess what was going on in her professor’s head.  His face was expressionless as he continued to read through the rest of her paper.  One minute passed, then two, three . . .  Just cut to the chase! she wanted to scream.

At last, he set down her paper and looked up at her through the wire-rimmed glasses he wore when he was reading.  Behind the frames, his gray eyes were warm, not hard.  “I see you did your paper on whether Thomas Jefferson fathered the children of his slave, Sally Hemings.”

Alexia nodded.

“And that even by sifting through all of this evidence . . .”–he held up the three-page works cited for good measure–“you still could not come to any conclusion whether he did or not.”

She nodded again.

“And why is that?” the professor asked, holding her gaze.

“Well,” said Alexia, “I . . . I felt that the evidence was inconclusive.”

“Meaning . . . ?”

“Meaning that it was impossible for me to determine whether he actually did father Sally’s children.”

“And that’s why you presented both sides of the argument.”

“Yes, that’s why.”

“And what do you believe?” Professor Ryan asked.  “You didn’t state it here, but I’d like to know what you think.  Was Sally Hemings Jefferson’s concubine or not?”

“There’s no way I could ever be sure,” Alexia admitted.  “I mean, it’s obvious by the 1998 DNA tests that Hemings’ descendants carry Jeffersonian genes.  But that doesn’t mean Thomas Jefferson himself fathered her children.  If I were to presume that, I’d be making a false correlation, or—what do they call it in science?—oh, yes.  A fallacy.”  She was babbling, she knew, but some tiny, hopeful, deluded part of her was hoping that by sounding as intelligent as possible, she could somehow persuade him not to fail her.

She waited for his response.

“I have to admit,” Professor Ryan said after a short pause, “that I was skeptical about your subject choice at first.  I didn’t know if you’d get so caught up in tabloid-esque gossip that you’d overlook the man altogether.  But you came at it from a different perspective, continually emphasizing that whether or not Thomas Jefferson had a concubine was irrelevant to the way you view his presidency.  Your judgment wasn’t clouded in the least.  In fact”—suddenly, his frowning mouth broke out into a wide, friendly smile, lighting up his whole face—“yours was probably one of the most lucid papers I read.  And not only that, it was interesting, passionate, and thorough to the core.  Well done, Miss Miller.”

“You mean . . . I didn’t fail?”

“Fail?  What gave you that idea?”

“I don’t know . . . I just assumed . . .”

“Well, don’t worry, because you definitely didn’t fail,” Professor Ryan said with a chuckle.  Alexia didn’t think she’d ever heard him laugh before.  Then again, in class she was usually too engrossed in hurriedly scribbling down notes to pay much attention to what he did.

He handed Alexia her paper.  On the front of it, he’d written in his short, bold scrawl, 98%.

“Thank you, Professor Ryan!” Alexia beamed.  “You can’t imagine how relieved I am.  If I’d failed . . .”

“Scholarship?” he guessed.

“Yes.  I have to maintain a 3.5 GPA every year, or else I’ll have to pay for my own tuition.  But there’s no way I can do that,” Alexia explained.  “My parents are dirt-poor.  They were greatly in debt a few years ago and are still working to pay off all of the money they owe.  And besides, they’re swimming in enough loans as it is.”

“Was this school your first choice?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  It offered me full tuition because of my grades, so I made it my first choice.”

Professor Ryan laughed again.  He had a nice laugh, Alexia was surprised to find herself thinking.

Then she realized what time it was.  “I should really go.  I have class in ten minutes. . . .”

“You do that.  Bye, Miss Miller,” said the professor.  “And have a nice day.”

As Alexia walked down the stairs, she couldn’t get the picture of his smile out of her mind.  She never would have thought that his grin would be so mischievous, like a little boy’s, and so welcoming at the same time.  He almost looked like a different person when he smiled.

*

After her second class was over, Alexia retreated to her dorm room and eagerly began to read through her paper.  All of the comments he’d written were not criticism, but praise.  “Valid point!” he said once.  Or, “Good phrasing—succinct but comprehensive!” and “Unique way of looking at this!”  Most had exclamation marks, and most warmed her heart in the weirdest way.

By November, Alexia watched as things in American History II started to change.  Professor Ryan began to call on her more often in class, and much to her own surprise, she found herself actually having something intelligent to say.

During the professor’s lessons, Alexia no longer just jotted down notes.  Her eyes strayed from being glued to her notebook to being glued to her teacher as she pretended to be paying attention to what he was saying while she was really observing the professor himself with a keen curiosity.  She was both surprised and pleased to find that he wasn’t the straight-edge professor she’d thought he was.  He joked all of the time with his students, revealing a nice, if not dry, sense of humor.  Sometimes he’d even share one of his rare smiles with the class.  Had he always been this real with his students?  Or perhaps she’d just never cared to notice before?

By watching him in class, the pensive pupil learned a lot about her professor.  Soon Alexia realized what Daisy had meant about his supposed conservatism.  His morals were strict, if somewhat old-fashioned–a rarity for a college professor in a state college such as this, where liberalism dominated through and through.  He wasn’t ashamed to admit his Midwestern values, nor to argue for or against them.  Sometimes, Daisy or one of the other “leftist” students would point out that his views on particular events in history seemed to them to be biased.  He’d agree.  “But then again,” he’d add, “there’s no way to look at history without your own biases clouding your vision.  Pure objectivism, I’ve found, isn’t usually possible.”  Alexia admired him for admitting this and not dancing around the subject like other professors would.

Sometimes, Professor Ryan would even talk about his home life.  He told his students that he’d been raised in a Catholic home in Indiana.  “For fun, I watched the corn grow,” he often quipped.  Alexia discovered that he’d gone to Purdue University for his bachelor’s degree and to Oxford for his master’s.  Currently, he was working on his a doctoral thesis about the intricacies of the Monroe Doctrine.  In addition, he had published several books and was pretty well known throughout the community.

He was also married.

At first, Alexia thought it was nice that he would talk about his wife of who-knew-how-many-years so fondly.  Once, while dining at a local restaurant with a few of her friends, she saw them together.  They seemed very in love; Alexia could tell it wasn’t an act.  His wife wasn’t very beautiful or anything, just pretty in a simple way, with dark hair and light eyes and the look of an elementary school teacher, which she was.  Alexia noted how Professor Ryan treated his wife.  His eyes were only for her, and when he spoke to her, he was very animated, always flashing that grin Alexia only saw ever so often.

Eventually, though, the way he talked about his wife began to bother Alexia.  She didn’t want to ponder why.  Once, her roommate pointed out what cute a couple she thought the Ryans were, and Alexia just narrowed her eyes and snapped, “Well, I certainly don’t think they are!”

In December, just as the semester was coming to an end, it seemed as if Alexia ran into her history professor everywhere.  They’d pass each other on the sidewalk, in the hallways of buildings, and he’d always say, “Hello, Alexia” with a smile that made her heart leap.

One morning, Alexia decided to dress up for the first time since she’d come to college.  During the past few months, all she’d really worn were jeans and a hoodie with little or no makeup and her hair pulled up in a messy bun.  She hadn’t really had any motivation to get all decked out; there was nobody to impress.  Well . . . maybe not nobody, exactly.  But still.

She woke up an hour and a half earlier than usual, showered, shampooed, and then set to primping.  She straightened her long, dark red hair and borrowed some tight, stylish clothes from her roommate.  She spent extra time on her makeup.  After clasping on some jewelry and a last spray of perfume, she was off to class.

Unfortunately, because of all of the time it took to get dolled up, Alexia ended up arriving at American History II five minutes late.  “Well, Miss Miller,” Professor Ryan said with a grin as she entered the room.

Alexia blushed.  “Um, I’m sorry I’m late.”

“That’s quite all right.”

She settled into her desk, aware that some of the male students around her were sending her glances.

Just as she exited the room, the professor commented, “Your hair . . . it looks nice, Alexia.”

“Thanks,” she muttered and then left quickly, trying to assess exactly what he’d meant by his observation.

No . . . it couldn’t . . . was it . . . ?  No way.

Were professors supposed to notice things like that?

. . . He noticed, thought Alexia.

*

That evening, Alexia attended a lecture on campus with two of her good friends.  As she settled in her seat, she was startled to recognize a thatch of brown hair a few seats in front of her.

Professor Ryan.

Needles to say, it was impossible for her to pay attention during the lecture.

As she and her friends left, one of them called out, “Hey, Professor Ryan!” and he turned to nod and smile at the trio of girls.  Alexia quickly looked away, but couldn’t for long.  Her eyes found him once more.

“He looks good!” one of her friends commented.  “Kind of hot!  Isn’t that weird?  I mean, he’s old and all, but—ye-eah!”

Alexia stared at him for a moment.  She was right.  He did look good.  Very good, in fact.  Like all of the other professors who’d attended the lecture, he was dressed up, wearing a fancy gray shirt, a dark navy tie, and black pants.  He was very thin, but his shoulders were broad.  He still looked like an athlete.  (He’d played basketball in college.)  And when he’d smiled . . .

The next day, she couldn’t look at him during class.  Whenever he spoke, his voice warmed her all over.  She hated it.  She didn’t like what was happening.  When Professor Ryan addressed her, she tried her best to sound icy.  Like she wasn’t all that pleased he’d called on her.  She pretended to be indifferent.

The days in his class were winding down.  Down, down, down . . . She didn’t want it to end.  She didn’t want to stop seeing him every day.  She dreaded the next semester.

She tried to hurry as fast as she could out of his classes.  Then one day, he said, “Alexia, wait a moment.”

She froze.  Oh, crap.

“I’m sure you’re aware that you got a C on your last test,” he said.  He was sitting at his desk, and he was wearing his reading glasses again.  Alexia didn’t like them at all.  They made him look old, and she didn’t want him to be old.  When he smiled, he looked so young. . . .

As Alexia nodded in response, she found herself staring at his hands.  She was shocked by how old they looked.  How wrinkled they were.  They didn’t match the rest of his body.  There were no laugh lines on his face.  His thick brown hair didn’t have a streak of gray.  But his hands . . . they were . . . old.

Alexia had never asked anyone, but she often tried to guess what age her professor was.  She thought—she hoped—that he was somewhere around thirty-seven or thirty-eight.  But his hands . . . his hands looked over forty.

He wore a gold wedding band.

“Even with as many students as I have, I don’t like to see them flounder,” the professor said, his voice softening.  “I hate witnessing bright students throw their futures away.”

All because of a C? Alexia wanted to ask, but she knew he was right.  C’s in college usually led to D’s and then to F’s and eventually, dropping out.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled.  She didn’t know what else to say.  She was having the hardest time in her classes lately.  Far, far too often she found her mind straying to . . .

“It’s all right,” Professor Ryan said.  “But Alexia, you’re a very smart girl, and this does disappoint me.  Are you all right?”

Am I all right? she thought.  Am I all right?  All I can think about is you and nothing else.  I love your smile and your laugh and your voice and your eyes and . . .

“I’m fine,” she managed.

“Good.  No more C’s then?”

“Hopefully not,” Alexia replied stiffly.  Then she left the classroom, feeling as if she couldn’t breathe.

This is crazy, Alexia fumed throughout the rest of the day.  I can’t keep going on like this.  This is all in my imagination.  There is no way he’d ever be interested in me.  He’s my professor, for heaven’s sakes.  And he’s married.  Married!

I need to get over this.  I need to . . . this has to end.  I can’t concentrate anymore.  My thoughts are consumed by him, and there’s no room for anything else.  I need to get good grades.  I need to pass my finals.

I can’t do that if I have to see him three days a week.

. . . but he makes me feel like no one’s ever made me feel before.

Her friends had tried repeatedly to fix her up with different college guys the past few months.  But it’d never worked out.  In the beginning, she’d been too obsessed with passing all of her courses to even consider dating.  Though her motive had changed, she still had no desire to go out with any other guys; she only wanted . . .  something she could never have.

Was this just a stupid illusion, a school-girl crush that would fade easily?  But she was far too old for that, wasn’t she?  Nineteen in two months.  This had happened to her friends in middle school, not college.

The days before her finals were nerve-wracking.  Alexia had to practically force herself to study and not to let her mind wander off.  It took all of her energy, and she slept little.  She nodded off while eating breakfast or lunch.  She spent many nights at the library or in the lounge of her dorm, just reviewing like crazy.  She consumed more coffee and pizza than she ever had in her lifetime.

When Alexia took her final in American History II, she was more high-strung than ever.  She tried in vain to think, but her mind seemed to be in a muddle.

She was overly conscious of the professor.

She could feel him.  Only a few feet away.  There.  She saw him out of the corner of her eye.  He was seated and reading a book.  A Grisham novel.  He likes Grisham, she immediately noted, then hated herself for it.

Does he notice me?  Can he . . . can he sense me sensing him?

Concentrate! she screamed to herself.  It took every nerve in her body, but at last she did.

When she turned in her final, it occurred to Alexia with a sickening realization that this was the last time she’d be in class with Professor Ryan.  The semester was over.

She didn’t look at him as she handed him the answer sheet.  His hand was so close to hers.

Then, before she knew what was happening, she was gone.

*

She took her last final and began to pack to go home for Christmas.  But she wasn’t excited.  She moved through everything like a routine.  Some part of her had died.

She decided that her last night before she went home, she was going to treat herself to a cappuccino at the local Starbuck’s.  It was madly expensive, but she needed something to soothe her aching soul right now.

As she purchased her drink, she glanced over her shoulder and froze on the spot.  It was Professor Ryan.  By himself.  No wife.  Sitting there, before her.

Don’t don’t don’t.

But she did.  She started to walk by him, hoping, yearning, wishing, wanting . . .

Please please please.

“Hello, Professor Ryan!” she said, with more exuberance than she wanted to express.

He glanced up and smiled softly.  “Ah, Alexia.”

“How are you?” she asked.

“Glad the semester’s over.  Yourself?”

“The same, definitely.”

“You did very well on my final,” he said.

“Yeah . . .”

“You passed my class.  A-.”

“I know.”

“And your other classes?”

“The same.”

“So you keep your scholarship.”

She nodded.

Pause . . .

In a moment, she thought, he’s going to ask me to sit down.  I will.  We’ll talk for so long, we’ll lose track of time.  Then he’ll tell me he’s divorcing his wife.  She’s leaving him.  Yep, she’s leaving him for some other man.  She’s not as sweet and wonderful as he always made her out to be.  We’ll talk history.  We’ll have so much in common.  Then it’ll be late–too late for me to walk back to my dorm by myself.  He’ll offer to escort me.

Pause . . .

Professor Ryan took a sip of his cappuccino.

It’s cold out.  We’ll walk close together.  Our breath will hit the cold air and mix together in a luminous white cloud. I’ll look up at the bright sky and say, “It’s so beautiful out.”  He’ll agree.

Pause . . .

I’ll shiver.  He’ll offer me his coat.  I’ll say I’m only too willing to oblige.  And I won’t be gawky.  I won’t be a clumsy, stupid college freshman, but a mature woman he admires.  He’ll keep looking at me.  I’ll keep looking at him.  We’ll continue strolling.  We’ll talk.  Our voices will be hushed, quiet.  He’ll sound more tender than I ever could have imagined.

Pause . . .

We’ll stop at the door of my dorm.  He’ll look down at me, those gray eyes meeting mine, and he’ll smile that smile, the one I dream about constantly.  And then I’ll giggle nervously.  He’ll keep staring.  Our eyes will lock.  Boom.  I’ll feel it.  He’ll feel it, too.  Moving closer . . . closer . . . and then our lips will touch.  His beard will be scratchy, his lips warm.

Pause . . .

And then—we’ll run away together.  Why not?  By then, any sort of inhibitions will be thrown out the window.  We’ll fly to Las Vegas for the holidays.  We’ll elope.  I’ll say, “Screw college” and he’ll say, “Screw everything.”  We’ll be together, and that’s all that will matter.  He’ll be . . . fantastic.  So gentle, so loving with me.  He’ll whisper, “I love you” even in the most awkward moments, like when we’re groggily brushing our teeth together in the morning.  I’ll help him finish his thesis.  He’ll dedicate his next book to me with the words, “To Alexia, the love of my life.”  We’ll have a song, a slow, jazz song—Frank Sinatra, or Ella Fitzgerald—and we’ll dance to it, cheek to cheek.  I’ll tell him I don’t care how old he is or what people will say, but I love him and always will.  He’ll admit that he’s been captivated by me ever since the first day I stepped into his class, and that he doesn’t care if he’s throwing his conservative Midwestern values out the window—just as long as he can be with me.  He’ll hold my hand.  We’ll wear matching rings.  We’ll travel together, travel the world.  We’ll be Mr. and Mrs. Ryan. . . .

“Okay, honey?” the professor asked as his wife slid into the seat across the table from him.

“Yes, I’m fine.  I just felt a little sick, that’s all.  But I’m fine now,” his wife said warmly.  She glanced over to Alexia.  “Hello.  Who are you?”

“This is my student, Alexia Miller,” Professor Ryan explained.  There was no hesitation.  No guilt.  Nothing to hide.

“Hi,” Alexia returned.

The professor looked at his wife.  There it was, in those gray eyes—love, admiration.  It couldn’t be denied.

“Oh, darn,” Alexia said suddenly, checking her watch.   “I gotta go.  Well, it was nice to see you both.  I hope you feel better, Mrs. Ryan.”

“Why, thank you,” said the professor’s wife with a sincere smile.  “Merry Christmas, Alexia.”

“Thanks.  You, too.”

She didn’t feel disappointed, exactly.  More as if she wasn’t there.  As if she were just observing the events that were happening, not actually taking part in them.

When she walked back to the dorm that night, the cold air brought her back down to earth.  She had seen the Ryans leave Starbucks together.  The professor had opened the door for his wife and then wrapped his arm around her shoulders, bringing her in close.

I was so stupid, Alexia thought.

Still, the air was sobering.  She couldn’t float around in a cloudy haze anymore.  She knew what was what.  There’d never been anything there at all—nothing between her and the professor.  It was entirely one-sided.  It’d all been in her head.

She realized that she was almost glad she wouldn’t have him next semester.  Now she’d be able to go back to being quiet, studious, level-headed Alexia Miller, and not some neurotic freak plagued by puppy-love.

Who knew?  Maybe she’d even hook up with one of the guys her friends matched her up with.

Thinking of the professor’s warm gray eyes and sparkling smile, her heart soared.

But not for awhile, at least.

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