I’ve just walked into a conversation I’m not meant to hear. “I’m considering coming back for my Master’s. I could work under you.” Through the glass panel of his office door, I see Charles facing a young brunette, the one eager for advanced education. I worry that she’s prettier than me.
I knock loudly.
His eyes flick up to the entrance of the door. She barely moves.
“Ch–Professor Waters,” I glare at the co-ed, ”I thought you were free right now.”
“Veronica,” it sounds like a sigh of relief, ”I’m being unceremoniously held up. Kelly is a former student of mine. She’s visiting from Boston.” When he says her name, he winces like it was a mistake. His face, young looking for a thirty-three-year old, looks pained. “A surprise visit,” he adds. The brunette turns around. She has wide blue eyes and soft hair.
She twists around in the squat chair and sticks out her hand. She doesn’t get up, “Kelly. Pleasure to meet you. I can’t say I’ve heard a lot about you.” We shake. Kelly. I didn’t think she was coming back. I’m not used to competing with her in person.
Three months ago, Charles had opened his office door and welcomed me in. The snug office had an entire wall as a bookcase and it still wasn’t enough. Next to the window, there was a photo of him with friends. A girl with wide blue eyes and soft brown hair was snuggled up next to him grinning brightly.
“Where was that?” I asked. I tried to find that happiness in him in that cramped office.
He raised his eyebrows at me, looking up from a notebook. “Hmm? Oh…Colorado Springs, last winter.” He picked up the photo, sighed, and put it back down again.
“Is that your wife?” I asked.
He focused on her. He ran his fingers through his cropped black hair and shook his head, “No.” He chuckled humorlessly, “Not even close.” Then, he looked at me and I felt my skin get hot. “You remind me of her.”
“When did you graduate?” I ask.
“Two years ago. You were a sophomore, right?” I just nod. She knows I graduate this spring. She smiles widely and bats her eyelashes. “What class do you have with Charles?”
“Hmm. So did I. I really learned a lot.” She flirts over her shoulder, then faces me. Again with that saccharin smile.
I search the wall for a moment and smile. Her picture is no longer there. Satisfied, I look towards Charles, then back at her.
We put the office scene on repeat for several days per week. I would come in with some prop (a half-done lab report, a shoddy set of questions about the homework) and just talk. I started getting antsy in class. I noticed when he stood close to me. When he was looking at me. I was in his office one Tuesday night, pawing through his bookshelf when he came up behind me. “I think you might really enjoy this one,” he whispered. I can’t remember which book he pointed out. My work lay on his desk while he pressed me up against the bookcase.
”Right. Well, I should let you get going. Isn’t it a long drive back?”
“I’m considering staying the night,” she says.
Charles steps in, “You won’t find a hotel this late in the day.”
“Would you mind if I stayed in your guest room again?” She addresses me now, “He has great taste when it comes to decorating bedrooms.”
I bite back a smile. I almost feel bad for her. “Kitchens too.”
Charles gives me a look that makes me long to be surrounded by bookshelves. “Kelly, I really need to work with Veronica.”
She tenses her jaw. “Guess I won’t have a chance to review the materials.” She stands and hitches her bag onto her shoulder, “It was nice seeing you again, Charles. She turns to walk out the door, “Veronica…good luck with everything.”
As she walks down the hallway, I know I should stop her. That will be me in six months, if not sooner. We should become friends or at least allies. We could compare stories and laugh over coffee about no one ever suspected us. But instead, I let her walk out while I close the door and uncover the finer points of physiology.