Page 7

 H.M. Ward

  • Background:
  • Text Font:
  • Text Size:
  • Line Height:
  • Line Break Height:
  • Frame:

Shocked gasps fill the room. I see my horror mirrored in the faces around me. We all liked him. Strictland gives us a moment and then speaks gently, “I know, I know. It was sudden. Everyone thought he would…” Strictland’s voice is strained. She tries to keep the emotion off her face, but she can’t. “He was a trusted colleague and a good friend.
“In light of what happened, we have had to find a quick replacement so that the students in Dr. Tadwick’s classes could complete their courses. The university has hired a new teacher, one of my previous students, to temporarily to teach his classes.
“Sidney and Marshal, you can meet him in a moment. He’s gone to the classroom to inform the students of the change. I’m not certain if he plans to hold class today or let the students leave. We left that decision up to him.” Marshal and I nod.
I can’t believe Tadwick’s dead. A wave of shock hits me and doesn’t let go. His poor little girls. My heart clenches inside my chest. I met them a few times. The last time I saw them, they came up here with their mother to bring Tadwick dinner. It was a big surprise. Now he’s gone. There’ll be a hole in that family that won’t mend. My eyes sting, but tears don’t fall. I’ve spent too much of my life crying. They won’t fall unless I let them, and I can’t. Not here. Not now.
Strictland eyes me, as though she can see my thoughts on my face. “The funeral is this afternoon, if you would like to attend and pay your respects.” Strictland gives the location along with some other directions before turning to me and saying, “Please help the classes transition. Some of the students may be very upset. Dr. Tadwick was a promising young teacher. No one expected this.”
I know the students will be upset, especially in Marshal’s classes. The upper-level classes are small. Everyone knows everyone else. My 100 level classes are large with hundreds of students. Most of them didn’t know Tadwick very well. I have no idea how they’ll take it. Stunned, I nod and turn to leave. My class is downstairs right now and the new guy is probably being eaten alive.
I feel that hollow place at the center of my chest as I walk down the stairs and think about Tadwick. My emotions are such a jumbled mess. Add in the incident from last night and I can feel my grip on my emotions slipping away. I keep getting blindsided. Images flash through my mind, filled with Tadwick’s smile, his voice, his lessons—things he taught me that won’t ever be forgotten. For the vibrancy of his life to be snuffed out, it just seems so pointless. It’s not fair. I feel the weight inside my chest sink into my stomach and think I might puke. I can’t do anything except think that Tadwick’s still alive, wearing his patchwork coat with the big ugly buttons. I picture him at the lectern, and know that I won’t see him there ever again.
There are some people who take the time to teach others. And, at the time, it seems silly. At the time, I thought I knew everything, but Tadwick had a gentle way about him. Life is a journey, he would say. No one knows everything, and the best part is that you don’t have to. He meant that I didn’t have to figure everything out to live my life.
There’s a difference between wisdom and knowledge. Tadwick was wise. My throat is in knots as I approach the classroom door. Normally, I would enter from the side and go sit in the first row, but not today.
The lump in my throat has grown so large, so impossible to swallow. I stand in front of the main doors to the classroom, and stare at the silver pulls without moving. I say a little prayer for Tadwick, inside my head, for his family, before I go inside. I don’t really believe anything, but I can’t help it. It seems like the right thing to do.
When I pull open the classroom door, I see the endless rows of seats. They are still full. I guess new guy is continuing class without a break. A student is talking, answering a question from Antigone, the assignment for today.
Glancing down to the front of the room, I see the new teacher’s black suit and don’t bother to look at his face. I walk down the stairs slowly. No one looks at me. They all know I’m the TA. I stare at my feet as I walk down the staircase toward the front of the massive room. I feel as if I’m in a bubble. The sounds around me blur, but about half way down the stairs my attention snaps to the front of the room. The hairs on my neck prickle and I feel eyes on me.
Slowly I lift my gaze to see who’s looking at me. They lock on the man at the front of the room. He stares at me for a moment, and I shudder. Every inch of my body is in overload. I feel my brain breaking and falling apart inside my head.
This can’t be happening, not to me, not now.
I stop and stare.
It’s Peter.
Every inch of my skin is covered in goose bumps. A shiver of ice runs down my spine and mingles with the lust still brimming inside of me from last night. Standing frozen on the stairs, I gape at him. Peter looks up at me with those gorgeous eyes. His mouth is paused midsentence as he stares back with his head titled to the side. Peter blinks at me, as if I’ll fade away—like this is a bad dream and a single blink will set me free.
I have no idea what he’s thinking. The expression on his face is so annoyingly neutral. Horror slowly drips through me like acid, burning away every other emotion. Although I can’t feel them at the moment, I know they are still there, pushed back behind the floodgate that’s ready to burst open.
Realization comes to me as I take in his clothing –that polished suit that fits his beautiful body perfectly. He’s standing in front of the lectern. He is (or was) answering the student. Awh, damn.
Peter’s the replacement professor.
Peter’s a teacher.
Peter’s my boss.
My heart feels brittle, like glass, like I’ll shatter if I breathe. There’s too much pressure even though nothing is touching me. I feel its force crushing against my body, against my battered soul. Too many things have gone wrong today. I feel the fracture lines splinter me into pieces.
I react. I don’t mean to, but I do. Gasping, I cover my mouth and press my lips together so tightly that they hurt. Part of my mind is telling my legs to move, be quiet, and go sit down, but I can’t. I’m frozen on the stairs and falling apart. Peter watches me with those striking eyes. He doesn’t look away from me. He stands frozen, as if I’m the biggest shock he could have expected.
The student who was talking before, Lily, speaks up. I see her hand go up out of the corner of my eye. She asks, “Excuse me, Dr. Granz?”
Peter flinches and his head turns back toward Lily. There’s a full smile on his face, as if nothing’s happened. Like I don’t matter. The students around me glance at my frozen form, still standing on the stair case. Peter’s rich voice fills the room. It echoes through the speaker so clearly that I can’t stand it. My legs are telling me to haul ass out of there, but I can’t.
I drop my hand from my face and walk down to my normal seat at the front of the room. Peter doesn’t look at me again. The rest of the class continues and I do my job, taking attendance and posting his questions to the interactive computer thingy the school purchased last year. The students use an iTouch to respond, and the teacher can see their answers. It helps the teacher and the students, but most of the teachers can’t use it, which is why each class has a TA or GA to help.
Over the course of the hour, I’ve gone numb. I can’t handle this. Too much has happened too fast. It’s bad enough being here, in Tadwick’s room, knowing I’ll never see him again. Add to that the Peter complication and I can’t do it. I can’t handle seeing him every day, having him tell me what to do, sitting with him for hours and grading papers. My stomach twists and turns, growing more acidic by the second. I feel so sick. By the end of class, I’ve shrunk back into my chair so that my head barely hits the top of the seat.
Peter dismisses the class. He turns and looks at the lectern for a moment, while I gather my things to leave. As I stand and start walking up the stairs, I hear my name. “Sidney Colleli, please come see me before you go.” I hear the rustling of paper behind me as Peter picks up his notes.
Turning slowly, I look back at him. The lump in my throat is now the size of my head. I can’t swallow. I’m coming apart at the seams. I can feel it. Talking to him is a very bad idea, but there are a few students lingering. I can’t blow him off.
As it is, people noticed something was weird when I saw Peter. Dating a prof is against university policy, so is dating the boss. Peter is both. We’ll both get fired if anyone knows what happened between us. There is no room for stuff of this sort in academia. The rules were made crystal clear when we signed on the line to be a TA. At the time, the thought of sleeping with a prof sounded gross, but now—shit, shit, shit. My brain is in panic mode. I try to lock it down as I walk toward Peter.
I grin at him, as if he has no effect on me, and fold my arms over my chest. “So, Doctor Granz, is it?”
Peter looks at me from under his brow. He stacks papers and shoves them into his satchel. “Yes, I completed my doctoral work last semester. The title is new. It takes some getting used to.”
I nod. “Mmm, I suppose that’s why you forgot to mention it.”
Peter gives me a look that says I shouldn’t be talking about this now. His eyes burn a hole into mine, like he’s daring me to blurt it out. I break the death-stare first and look away. I don’t have it in me right now. Peter clears his throat and says, “Please meet me in my office at 3:00pm. There are some things we need to go over right away.” He grabs another stack of papers from his bag as he speaks. He pulls them out and puts them on the podium.
I don’t answer him at first. I just look at my shoes, my tired old All Stars. Then, my gaze drifts to his black dress shoe. It’s a saddle shoe, vintage, and one of my favorite styles. It reminds me of dancing and laughing, things that seem so foreign at the moment.
I open my mouth as if I’m going to say something and decide that it’s not worth it. I need this job. I worked my ass off to get here and I’m not letting Peter mess it up. I nod and turn away. I don’t look back at him. I walk up the stairs.