“I’m telling you, the staff barbecue is the perfect place for you to talk to him.” She opened her lunch and the smell of kimchi rice filled the room.
The him she was referring to was Professor Eric Morris. The tall, dark-haired, super-fit sociology professor had a voice that could melt hearts and drop panties with a simple hello. Professor Eric Morris, who had more female students in his class than anyone else on campus. A man who rarely smiled, but when he looked at you there was no doubt he not only saw you, but every thought and feeling that flitted through your head. He starred in far too many of my nightly fantasies for me to admit without sounding like a crazy, obsessed stalker.
The man, who in the year and a bit that he’d been teaching at the college, I’d barely managed to say two words to, because I was, as Jasmine put it, a coward.
“I love you like a sister, Jaz. But there is no way I’m going to say anything to him. Ever.”
It was the Friday before the Labor Day weekend, the last workday before the start of the school year. Most of the professors from the college were gone, taking their last bit of vacation to play golf, read, or do whatever their passions happened to be. I loved working this time of year. The school was quiet. It always felt as though someone had taken a deep breath and were waiting to exhale. A collective pause before the chaos to come.
This year was going to be especially awesome. Professor Mickelson, my boss, had already been away for three months on his semester-long sabbatical. I still had four more months of only communicating with him via e-mail. Heaven!
“Are you insane?” Jasmine threw her napkin at me. “This is the perfect time for you to do it. He’ll be there. You’ll be there. Your crazy boss won’t be there. You might even be able to relax and have fun for once.”
She was my best friend in the whole wide world, but there were times when Jasmine scared the shit out of me. I looked down at my hands and picked at the dry skin around my nail. “I just can’t.”
“What’s the worst that can happen? He’ll say no. At the very least you’ll have an answer and you can move on to someone else.”
A grad student chose that moment to come into the kitchen. He didn’t even look at us as he made his way to the coffee machine. I leaned forward to close the distance between me and Jasmine. “I’m quite happy with my fantasies, thank you.”
“I bet you are. I bet you dream about climbing up his body and licking every inch of his skin.”
The grad student looked at us wide-eyed before he spun away quickly. I got the impression he was still listening, no doubt wanting to get some dirt that could be passed around the student lounge. Great, like I needed that kind of attention.
I nodded my head in the direction of our friend. “Can you keep your voice down a bit?”
“Not if you’re not going to listen to my advice.” She leaned back and crossed her arms, her eyes locked onto mine. “You need to make a move before someone else snatches him up.”
Now the grad student wasn’t even pretending that he wasn’t paying attention. Jasmine must have picked up on it too, because in the next instant she turned around and glared at him. “Don’t you have someplace to be, Stuart? Like running your tutorial?”
“Ah, yeah. Yes.” For a moment I thought his eyes were going to bug out of his head.
“Then move your ass.” Jasmine pointed at the door and narrowed her gaze.
I’d never seen a person move that quickly before in my life.
When she turned her glare back on me, I knew I wasn’t going to be spared anything. “Glenna, I know you don’t believe me, but this is the truth. You are not meant to be alone. You and Eric would be cute together. He’s serious, you’re serious. Just think about what sex would be like with him. Jesus, if I weren’t gay even I’d be tempted to take him for a ride my-self.”
And there was a mental picture I so didn’t want—my best friend and my crush fucking.
“I hate you.” I pulled my tuna sandwich out of my container and took a giant bite. “He doesn’t even know I’m alive. Saying hello to him at the barbecue isn’t going to do anything to help get him into my bed.”
“Well, you can’t expect him to fuck you if you can’t at least have a simple conversation.” She took a big bite of her kimchi and waved her fork around. “Maybe you can get drunk and then grope his ass. Then you’d have to go apologize. There might be groveling. ‘Oh, please Eric, how can I ever make it up to you?’” She batted her eyelashes at me before laughing. “You should see your face.”
“You’re an asshole. Why are we even friends?”
“Because I showed you how to shotgun a beer our first week of college.”
“Only after I saved your ass with that essay.”
But as she knew, my brain does this thing that as soon as someone puts a thought out there I can’t help but picture how things will work out, all the way to their natural conclusion. In my head I saw myself at the party. Eric would walk by on his way to the food table or something. I’d “accidentally” bump into him as he passed me and look into his eyes all surprised. Maybe I’d even spill a drink on myself. He’d think he’d done it and would help me clean myself.
I’m sorry, Glenna. How can I make up for this?
Oh nothing. It was an accident.
I can’t stand by while I’ve done you wrong. At least let me give you a clean shirt.
I’d blush, of course, because who wouldn’t. Thank you.
Why don’t you take mine? His voice would be that low rumble that always seemed to turn me on. His eyes would be locked onto me as he’d slowly unbutton his shirt.
Wow, Eric. Your chest is so firm.
Would you like to see the rest of me?
And bam, crazy-monkey sex!
I cleared my throat and quickly took another bite of my sandwich. “I don’t think Eric likes anyone. Or has sex. Or anything. He’s always on his own.”
“Baby, I’ve seen that man. He’s having sex. As much as he wants with whomever he wants to do it with. I keep telling you all you need to do is go after him.”
“He doesn’t know I’m alive,” I said again. And I was essentially a coworker. That went against so many things on my mental “don’t touch” list I couldn’t fathom it.
“Whose fault is that? Not his. If you want someone then you need to do something about it. Life doesn’t reward the cautious.”
“Sometimes it does.”
“You don’t believe that.”
I hated when she was right. “Maybe.”
“You’re a research assistant who lives in the world of studies and observations. Talk to him—hell, I was serious about the groping. I’m sure you could chalk this up to some exception-ally hands-on research project.”
“God, you’re a child sometimes. I don’t need a man to fulfill me when I have a perfectly good vibrator at home to help—”
“Baby, all you do is masturbate.”
“—live out my fantasies. I’d be scared that the reality would never live up to the imaginary Eric that I’ve created in my head.”
It was in that moment that my skin began to tingle. We were still alone in the kitchen, but I could have sworn someone was there. It was probably Stuart standing outside in the hall trying to get some more dirt. Well, he was out of luck because I was done being browbeaten by Jasmine.
“I need to get back soon. Professor Mickelson left me a pile of books to pull and outline for him. He’ll be chasing me through e-mails if I’m not done soon.”
Thankfully, she sighed, signaling the end of her teasing. “When does the old goat get back?”
“He’s off all term, but he’s threatened to come back around the end of October for a check-in. Then I’m sure he’ll have me buried in another bunch of new projects before the next term starts.”
“I’d better head out too. I have a one-thirty meeting. Apparently the CS profs want to do a study on online learning again. I have to pull some old case studies so they don’t rehash an old thesis.”
The echo of our chairs scraping as we stood filled the room. One second I was picking up my garbage and taking it to the garbage can, and in the next I was face-to-face with the object of my lust.
Professor Eric Morris stood in the doorway, coffee mug in hand. Well, stood isn’t quite the right description. It’s more like he loomed. He’s probably only a smidgen over six feet tall, but being only five foot four myself, it makes for a huge difference from my perspective. Mind you, being eye level with his chest was no hardship. His dress shirts fit him perfectly, but they couldn’t hide the muscles beneath. As usual, I was paying more attention to his pecs—Were they really as firm as they looked?— rather than his face. That was why I didn’t immediately notice him staring at me. Which he totally was.
And there was my blush. “Umm, hi, Professor Morris.”
Woot, go me! I finally spoke to him.
God, his voice! It was a lot lower than any other man’s voice that I knew and had a way of seeping into my body when he spoke. Could the sound of a voice be an aphrodisiac? If so, then I could listen to him read the phone book and probably have an orgasm.
Jasmine cleared her throat and I realized that we’d been standing staring at each other for longer than was normal. I looked at the garbage in my hand and then at the garbage can directly behind him. “Umm, sorry. I just need to . . .”
I’d half-expected him to move to the side so I could reach it. Instead he stayed put, forcing me to step awkwardly around him. I clamped my mouth closed as I moved so he wouldn’t be subjected to the stench of my tuna breath. As I brushed past him, I got a nose full of his aftershave. It wasn’t a brand that I knew, but he smelled awesome and it always made me a bit giddy when he was nearby. I could always tell when he’d been in a room, my nose keenly aware of his lingering scent.
It was only after I finally dropped my garbage into the bin that Eric moved over to the coffee machines. I wasn’t a close colleague to him and hadn’t worked on any of his projects since he’d come to the school, so I didn’t have much I could say to him. Not that he was particularly easy to speak to with his back to us. I scampered over to the table and grabbed my things. “I need to stop and get some paper for my printer.”
“Cool.” Jasmine was clearly trying to fight off a laughing fit. “Want to grab a coffee before we go? You look like you could use one.”
I’m going to kill her. “No, I’m good for now.”
Just before we left the kitchen, Jasmine piped up. “Have a great day, Professor Morris.”
“You as well, Ms. Houng, Glenna.”
Yes, she was going to die in the most painful way possible.
Somehow I managed to keep my mouth shut until we were out of earshot. “I hate you.”
“Are you kidding me? For a second I thought he was going to throw you over the table and fuck you in front of me.”
“You’re high. He doesn’t know me.”
“Don’t be so dramatic. He knew your name, which means he knows who you are. And you couldn’t see his face the way I did. Not only does that boy know you’re alive, but he’s interested.”
“Whatever.” She was just trying to get me going. He couldn’t be interested.
As we were about to turn the corner, I looked back down the hall toward the kitchen. Eric was standing there, coffee cup in his hand, staring back at me.
He wasn’t interested, was he?
Until today I didn’t even think he remembered my name.
We were almost back to the office when I heard my cell phone ringing. I missed it, but when I finally got to my desk and checked, I saw that there were four missed calls from my mom. “Shit.”
“What’s wrong?” Jasmine turned her seat to face me.
“Not sure yet. Sec. Hey, Mom. Sorry, I was at lunch.”
“Glenna, hon.” It took no time to realize that she’d been crying.
“What’s wrong? Is it Dad?”
“No, your father’s fine. It’s Great Glenna.”
I closed my eyes and felt the blood drain from my face. “Oh no.”
“She’s in the hospital, but the doctors aren’t sure she’s going to make it through the night. Can you come?”
“Where are you?”
“They took her to St. Joseph’s.”
“I’m on my way.”
Jasmine was on her feet standing in front of me when I hung up. “Hon, what’s wrong?”
“It’s my great-grandmother. She’s dying.”
in motion too. When she’s not pretending to be a ninja in her basement, she’s most likely spending time with her husband, daughters, and her two dogs.