Authors: Barry Chaison
“Whew,” he whistled. “You really do have a way with words don’t you?”
“Whatever,” I grunted as I stormed away from him.
“Wait a minute,” he demanded with a sudden shift in his tone, grabbing my arm from behind. He spun me around so we were staring at each other, face to face, his lanky height matching mine inch for inch. His deep eyes were blazing with fury and his masculine jaw was locked into place, causing his lips to tighten.
“I understand how close the two of you really are because she’s told me quite a bit about you,” he grumbled. My body stiffened up instantly at the thought of him knowing any personal details about me. “You two are closer than sisters, I get it. But you have no right to judge me. You don’t know anything about me. I really like Annie; she’s different than any girl I’ve ever met, except maybe you.”
“What does that mean?”
“It just means that you are not the same as the other girls here. But that’s not the point. I just came by this morning to tell you to stop putting these crazy ideas in her head. I don’t want to have to continually assure Annie that I’m not going to hurt her. It’s getting very tiring and quite frankly, a bit ridiculous.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” I retorted, pulling my arm away from his. “But, I’m going to keep watching out for her, whether you want to accept it or not.”
He finally released the grip on my arm. The wild look, which was etched in his face, faded immediately and was replaced by his trademark cool demeanor. I rubbed my arm defensively, trying to get the blood flowing back.
“Is there anything else?” I questioned.
“Nope, I think I’ve said everything I need to say. See ya around Zoe,” he replied smoothly. He turned on the spot and walked in the opposite direction. I stood there for a moment, rubbing my arm, and watched him walk away, feeling guiltier than ever before.
The morning classes flew by uneventfully, except for a small hiccup during Perspectives. My concentration wavered when class started and Annie was nowhere to be found. The guilty feeling, which had been brewing inside all morning, doubled in size as I stared at her empty desk. I wondered if she was absent because Liam told he we had argued, or if she was still upset about our fight on my birthday. Either way, my world started to feel like it was slowly coming apart. Even though she said things would be okay, in the back of my mind, a little piece of my brain was sending out warning signals. Those thoughts continued to linger throughout the day.
“Zoe? What do you think?” Professor Woodward’s voice echoed.
“Huh?” I replied hazily, not even realizing where I was.
“I was wondering what you thought of the point Alan just made about the role sacrifices played with the Ancient Hebrews,” he chuckled.
A light bulb unexpectedly flickered on in my head and everything came rapidly into focus. 20 pairs of eyes were glued on me, some looking expectant, others looking bored. I shook my head for a minute, trying to beat out the cobwebs.
“I, I’m sorry Professor. I didn’t hear what he said.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he sighed, turning his gaze from me to the small white clock above the doorway. “Our time is up for today anyway.”
“For Wednesday, I want you to all read Chapter Five in your books. It covers some of the earliest religions know to man in Ancient Mesopotamia. I think you’ll find it to be really exciting stuff!” he yelled over the shuffling of backpacks. Students were all already packing up as soon as the words “time is up” came out.
I waited for a moment, trying to put myself back together. Slowly, I closed my notebook, which was empty for the day, and jammed it into my backpack. As I stood up and started to walk out, Professor Woodward stopped me.
“Zoe, if you don’t mind, I’d like a word.”
“Oh, sure Professor,” I replied uneasily.
After another minute, the last two students exited the room before the door shut behind them. Professor Woodward took off his thin glasses and placed them in the chest pocket of his dark green wool sweater vest.
“Is there something wrong?” I asked.
“Are you doing alright Zoe?” he countered, looking mildly concerned.
“Yeah, I’m sorry about class. It was just a long weekend and it’s taking the day to kind of get back into things.”
“Oh, I see,” he replied curiously, as his eyes studied me for another minute. I couldn’t help but think that maybe he and Mark were long lost brothers the way he glared at me. My feet shuffled from somewhere underneath me in a poor attempt to focus on something else. After a moment, his face relaxed as he leaned his slender frame against the square wooden desk at the front of the room.
“I apologize that we haven’t had a chance to meet like I wanted to earlier. Things have just gotten busier than I expected. If you have a few minutes, I was hoping to catch up, see how things have been going?”
“Uh, sure, this is my last class of the day, so I’ve got some time,” I shrugged, as I dropped my bag and took a seat in the desk closest to Professor Woodward.
“So, how have classes been going so far?” he asked pleasantly.
It took me a minute to actually digest what he asked. My mind was still fuzzy from everything that had happened earlier in the day. I had been waiting to talk to Professor Woodward for over a month, but all I could think about was Annie and Liam. The only hope I had was to take a few deep breaths to clear my head, just as in Yoga class. I closed my eyes for a moment then inhaled and exhaled deeply. After a few repetitions, I opened my eyes and all of the guilt from earlier in the morning had faded completely. Professor Woodward continued to sit there patiently, not mentioning my odd behavior.
“Well, I don’t want this to sound bad, but…” I said, my voice becoming much clearer than before.
“Go on,” he encouraged.
“It’s just that my classes aren’t as difficult as I originally thought. I mean, they aren’t easy by any means, but I thought they would be much more challenging.”
“For starters, I’m not up studying as late as I expected. I get my homework done faster than I did in high school and I still want more to do. I’ve even read both of the optional books you put on your syllabus, and it just isn’t enough. Philosophy is nothing special, just because I’ve studied so much of it. Yoga isn’t really a full time class; it’s more a good start and end to the week. And Statistics is definitely challenging, but I’m only taking it for my math credit, so I’m able to get by. The only class that at least challenges me a little is this one. The subject has grown on me and I’m really starting to enjoy it,” I finished, surprised at my honest assessment of the first month.
“So, let me get this straight. You’ve kept up on all your work, and it’s easier than you expected?” he said, sounding surprised.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Interesting,” he trailed off, looking deep in thought.
“Professor, is everything alright?” I asked. He just lifted his gaze and looked normal again.
“Of course,” he said, smiling widely. “I’m just incredibly impressed. You don’t often find freshmen in their first month asking for more. I have to say that you’re an enigma Zoe!”
“Is that bad? Should I be challenging myself more?” I asked, biting my lip.
“No, it’s definitely not bad, and I wouldn’t worry about challenging yourself more. In my experience, things get tougher the closer you get to midterms and finals. I really think you’ll feel better once you get to that point.”
I nodded, relaxing a little bit. It was reassuring to hear that things would get a little more challenging. After everything that had been going on with Annie and Liam, getting back to the basics of schoolwork may have been exactly what I needed.
“And what about everything else? Are you doing okay?” he asked.
“Things are fine,” I lied. Even though he was very reassuring and nice, there was no way I’d delve into my personal relationships with a professor. “No problems, just getting into a groove with classes and some new friends. I’m pretty happy so far.”
“Good to hear! And have you had any chance to talk to your Orientation leaders some more? Some leaders tend to abandon their freshmen once that first week is over, so I hope yours have been a little more reliable than that.”
Truth was that I might have become too connected to my leaders. Simi and Liam were both a bigger part of my life than I originally anticipated, or even wanted. It was comforting to have Simi as a sounding board, but the whole fiasco with Liam made me slightly question if what she told me was even true.
“Yeah, they’ve been really helpful,” I lied again.
“Well, there isn’t much else for me to ask you about it seems!” he laughed. “Things appear to be going perfectly for you.”
“I wouldn’t say perfectly, but yeah, I’m doing pretty well.”
I couldn’t help but wonder what else he wanted to talk to me about. It had only been about five minutes and there wasn’t much else to say. Then, out of the blue, something popped into my head. I sat frozen on the spot, furious at myself for having forgotten such an important question.
“Actually Professor, I do have a question for you if you don’t mind?” I asked hesitantly.
For some strange reason, Professor Woodward’s demeanor shifted instantly. He stood up all of a sudden and began to pace slowly in front of me. A nervous look was etched in his young, but aging face. He looked worried and apprehensive, as his eyes were wider than normal and his hand was cusped over his nose and mouth. He glared at me every few seconds before he stopped pacing. He seemed to know exactly what I wanted to say before my mouth had even opened.
“I knew this would come up,” he sighed.
“No, no, go ahead and ask.”
“Um, okay… I was just going to ask about that moment when we first met. You seemed to insinuate that we had met before. When I tried to ask you about it, you kind of side stepped the question.” My throat slowly closed up as my voice tightened. Asking such a direct, personal question didn’t happen very often, especially to such an important person.
“I guess it’s time I explain myself,” Professor Woodward exhaled. He rubbed his face with both hands before turning back to me. The nervousness he had exhibited faded slowly as the slight wrinkles on his face evened out smoothly.
“We have met before, but there’s no way you could remember it. I was there the day you were born. Your father and I were best friends.”
Someone had taken all of the air out of the room as it became difficult to breathe. I couldn’t move or speak. So many questions popped up in those few seconds, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to ask them. My pulse was racing as my hands started to quiver.
“Zoe, are you alright?” Professor Woodward asked, his eyes wide in alarm.
“How?” I barely whispered.
“It’s a very long story, but I’ll tell you as much as I can,” he said, sitting back down on the table as he drew a deep breath.
“While we knew each other long before college, our friendship grew exponentially during our freshman year at The University of Washington. The school put us together as roommates and even though we had different interests, I loved studying religion; Eli loved his history, we enjoyed arguing and debating everything. It was some of the best times of my life.”
I shuddered at the mention of my father’s name. One minute, he was my Professor, the next he was my father’s best friend. My mind spun around like a merry-go-round as the mystery that had been plaguing me for a month finally started to be unraveled.
“He saw everything from fact; I saw things from faith. There was a good chance that if you stopped by our room, or saw us on campus together, we were arguing about something,” he chuckled reminiscently. “As our freshmen year went on, we ended up rushing one of the fraternities on campus and joined together.”
I was waiting for the trigger that would break me of the invisible spell that had cemented me in shock. Every word he spoke made it harder for me to believe that any of his story was true. He didn’t seem to know my father at all. There was no way my father would have ever joined a fraternity, let alone be caught anywhere close to one.
“Wait,” I panted, finally breaking my silence. “My dad was a frat boy?”
Professor Woodward laughed heartedly.
“It was his idea! Believe me; I was just as surprised as you are now.”
“But, he never told me that,” I murmured distantly.
“That’s probably because it was so out of character for him. He never really liked talking about it much. Your dad was a very introverted, shy person in his younger years. It’s actually quite scary how much you remind me of him. He preferred to mind his own business, study, and get good grades. He lived a very conservative lifestyle and didn’t take any risks. I think when the fraternity came around; he just decided to take a leap of faith. It worked, because from that point on, he was able to open up a little bit.”
I gave him a pondering look. My father was not one to open up to new ideas; he was one of the most old-fashioned people I had ever met. Recognizing my expression, Professor Woodward quickly backtracked.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, waving his hands enthusiastically, “he wasn’t a party animal by any means. But he did go out more, which turned out to be one of the biggest decisions he ever made. It led him to your mother.”