Ben Hughes turned on his side and watched the sleeping form in the bed next to him. I must be out of my mind,” he thought for the umpteenth time. It’s the only explanation for why I’m lying here in bed with Penny, a student I met just last month. He could lose his job if their relationship were discovered. Every time he resolved to end it but the moment they were together, all reason fled and passion took its place. It was like madness seized him when he was with her, rendering him powerless against the fierce emotions she aroused in him. She captivated him. His world as he knew it changed the day when he met her.
It was during a free period and he decided that instead of going the library to read which he normally did, he would go outside instead. It was a beautiful and mild sunny day. He inhaled deeply, savoring the clean, fresh air. As he set off, he thought of how fortunate he was to be doing what he loved. This year marked ten years since he was teaching at the university. Teaching was his life. It was in his blood. He couldn’t see himself doing anything else.
That was his professional life but as far as his love life was concerned…he was fine with the way things were for now. He dated occasionally—nothing serious. Tonight he was going to the theatre with Erin, a long-time friend. He enjoyed her company and they had a lot in common but he wasn’t attracted to her. She was aware that their relationship would never evolve into anything beyond friendship and was fine with that arrangement.
As far as marriage was concerned, it was the farthest thing from his mind. He wasn’t ready to settle down as yet. He had been single for so long, it was hard to imagine sharing his life with someone else. He just couldn’t see himself doing it but if the right woman, if she existed, were to come along, then he would seriously consider it. His life was not an exciting one or even interesting but it suited him well. The less complicated it was the better.
He came upon the bench in front of the building and he went over to it. He sat down and looked around him, thinking how peaceful it was. The warmth of the sun felt great. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. He was glad that he wasn’t cooped up in the library but was out here enjoying the weather. He glanced at his watch. He had lots of time left before his next class. Settling back against the bench, he opened his book and began to read.
A few minutes elapsed and then someone came and sat down beside him. He glanced up and found himself staring into the largest and most beautiful pair of brown eyes he had ever seen.
She smiled at him. “Hello, Professor Hughes.”
He had never seen her before. He would have remembered if he had. “What is your name?” he asked.
“What are you studying?”
“English because I love reading and am thinking of becoming a writer.”
“How long have you been here at Yale?”
“Two years. I transferred from Cornell to here. I graduate in June.”
That explained why she wasn’t in any of his classes. She was a transfer student about to graduate and he taught Freshmen. Too bad. He would have liked to have had her in his class. Or maybe, it was just as well. She would have been a distraction for him. Right now, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She fascinated him. He closed the book he was reading.
She glanced down at the book and when she read the cover, she picked it up. Flipping through the pages, she said, “The One Man. Is this Andrew Gross’s latest book? I’ve read most of his books. The last one I read was Everything to Lose.”
“Actually, this is the first novel by this particular author I’m reading. A friend of mine lent it to me because he knows how much I enjoy reading or watching anything to do with World War II. I can lend this to you when I’m done with it, if you’d like.”
She nodded. “I’d like that, thanks.” There was a brief pause then, “I have a writing assignment and I was hoping that you would be able to help me.”
“How could I help you?” he asked.
“I have to interview a professor and I was hoping that you would let me interview you.”
Ordinarily he would have flatly turned down the request for an interview but he heard himself say, “All right, I will do it.” He knew that he was only agreeing to it because it was an excuse for him to see her again.
She smiled, looking very relieved. “Thank you, Professor Hughes.”
“When is the assignment due?”
“It’s due on Monday.”
“Would you like to do the interview tomorrow?” he asked and she looked a little surprised. Perhaps, she didn’t expect that he would want to do it so soon. Today was Tuesday.
“Sure, tomorrow is fine. What time would you like us to meet and where?”
“We can meet in my office tomorrow. I’m available between 1 and 2.” He found himself eagerly looking forward to seeing her again much like a young man anticipating his first date. How ridiculous he was being. “Does that work for you?”
She nodded. “Yes. My class finishes at 12:50.”
They talked a while longer. He learned that she loved poetry and went skydiving on a dare from a friend. “When I was in the air, I was both terrified and thrilled,” she recalled, laughing. “The funny thing is I would do it again.”
“I went skydiving on my eighteenth birthday. It was an exhilarating experience. Have you ever gone rock-climbing?”
She shook her head. “But, I have always wanted to.”
“Perhaps, we could—” he had been about to suggest that they go together when he caught himself. Glancing at his watch, he noted the time and rose to his feet. “I’d better head back. My class is in twenty minutes.”
She looked up at him. “It was nice meeting you, Professor Hughes,” she said. “And thank for doing the interview.”
“It was nice meeting you too, Miss Jones.”
“Your book,” she held it out to him. He took it, his eyes riveted to her face.
He lingered. “Are you going to sit here for a while longer?”
She nodded. “For about ten minutes before I head to my next class.”
“Goodbye, Miss Jones.”
“Goodbye, Professor Hughes.”
The rest of the afternoon went quickly and soon he was on his way home. He couldn’t stop thinking about Penny and the following day, he was sitting at his desk, waiting for her. As soon as his class was over, he had hurried to his office. His eyes kept going to the clock above his door. At ten minutes past one, he heard a knock on the door. His heart leapt in his chest. “Come in.”
The door opened and Penny walked in. He got to his feet, his heart thudding. “Hello,’ he said when she was standing in front of his desk.
She smiled up at him. “Hello. I’m sorry I am late. My class went a little over time. I rushed over here as soon as I could.”
“No need to apologize.” His eyes were restless on her face. His gaze traveled over her slim figure clad in the black turtleneck sweater and jeans, swallowing hard when he felt his body react. He waited until she was seated before he sat down, trying to appear more relaxed than he was.
She took out a tape recorder. “Ready?” she asked, looking at him. He felt as if he could get lost in her eyes. He nodded. She switched the recorder on. “Where did you go to College?”
“Here at Yale,” he told her. “My experience here was such a positive and rewarding one that I decided to teach here.”
“What do you like best about teaching here?”
“Sharing my love for literature with others.”
“What other subjects interest you?”
“History and Art. I’m particularly interested in European History and Renaissance Art.”
She asked him more questions about his academic life and took notes. When asked what his hobbies were he named several such as chess, rock and mineral collecting, reading, writing, rock sports but the one which caught her attention was thrifting. “What’s that?” she asked, quizzically.
“It’s browsing the flea markets and antique shops and identifying authentic antiques and treasures from cheap junk. I started doing it just last year.”
“What is the hardest part of your job as a professor?”
He had to think about that one for a moment. “I guess it’s unmotivated students. Some semesters I have had to deal with poor attendance, tardiness, lack of communication, poor test results and missed assignments.”
“And the best part of being a professor?”
“Interacting with the students and encouraging them. Sometimes, I act as a mentor and a coach to them, drawing out the talent they didn’t know they had.”
She turned off the tape recorder, signaling that the interview was over. “Thank you, Professor Hughes for taking the time to do this interview.”
“It was my pleasure.” He watched as she closed her notebook and put it in her bag along with the tape recorder. “Do you have a boyfriend?” He had to ask. It had been on his mind throughout the interview.
She paused and looked up at him. “No, I don’t.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend. When can I see you again?”
“Any time you want.” He knew at that moment that she was interested in him.
“What about tomorrow evening?”
“I can’t,” she said, looking regretful. “I’m staying with my sister and her family until I can afford my own place. Tomorrow evening, they are going to a concert so I have to babysit the kids. I’m sorry.”
He was bitterly disappointed but it couldn’t be helped. “What about Friday evening?”
“Yes, Friday evening is good for me.”
“Penny, I’d like you to call me Ben whenever we are alone.”
She smiled and stood up. “All right, Ben. I can call you tomorrow night after I put the kids to bed.”
He grabbed a sheet of paper and scribbled down his phone number. “I look forward to hearing from you,” he said as he handed it to her.
She took it and put it in her bag. “Goodbye, Ben.”
“Goodbye, Penny.” He watched as she turned and walked out of his office, closing the door quietly behind her.
True to her word, she called him the following evening and they talked for hours. On Friday night they went for dinner at a family owned Italian restaurant where they enjoyed what she believed was the best pasta she had ever tasted. Afterwards, they went to his flat.
She was standing at the window, looking out when he went up behind her and pulled her against him. He bent his head and kissed her on the neck. She spun around and her eyes met his. The desire that was raging in him burned in her eyes. He pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp and his mouth closed hungrily over hers. She reached up and gripped his hair as she kissed him back. As they exchanged feverish kisses, he released her to remove his jacket, tossing it on the floor. His shirt followed and her hands left his hair to claw at his bare skin. He scooped her up and carried her into the bedroom. That night was the beginning of a very torrid affair.
And here they were now, several weeks later in his flat and him lying awake, his mind in turmoil. He couldn’t let his attraction for Penny to get in the way of his job. Two days ago when he was in the middle of teaching a class, an image of her looking down at him as they made love flashed across his mind and for a moment, he lost his train of thought. Yesterday he was late for class, something which had never happened to him before because Penny decided to join him in the shower. He had to stop seeing her until after she graduated in June. That was four months away. He couldn’t imagine not seeing her for four months but it was necessary—if he wanted to keep his job and his sanity.
She stirred beside him and he snuggled against her, closing his eyes as he imagined how empty his bed would be without her during those months of separation which would seem to him an eternity.
“We have to stop seeing each other, Penny,” he told her the next morning, “for a while,” he added quickly when he saw the expression on her face.
“But why?” she asked, looking bewildered.
“The university has banned professor-student relationships so there are no loopholes. I could lose my job if someone were to find out about us.”
“The last thing I want is for you to lose your job,” she said quietly. “How long do you want us to stop seeing each other?”
“Until after you graduate–”
“But that’s four months from now.”
“I know,” he sighed. “Four months is a long time.”
“It’s going to be so hard for me to be on the campus and not see you. I’m going to miss coming here.”
“Yes, it’s going to be tough but we need to do this. I’m going to miss you terribly. This flat, my bed are going to feel so empty without you.”
“Do-do we separate today?”
Shaking his head, he reached for her and pulled her against him. “No, not today,” he muttered thickly. “I want us to spend the weekend together.”
She nodded. “All right, Ben.” As she slipped her arms around his neck, he picked her up and carried her to his room.
After he laid her on the bed, he stretched out beside her, gazing down into her face. “When we are apart, I want you to remember one very important thing,” he said huskily. “I love you.”
She reached up brushed the hair back from his forehead. “I love you too. And I will cherish this moment and all the special moments we have had until we are together again.”
He bent his head and kissed her. They spent a quiet weekend, talking and making love and then it was over. She left on Sunday night. He walked her to her car. They hugged and kissed and then, she quickly climbed into the car. He stood there watching her drive away, his heart aching. He had no idea how he was going to get through the next moment, much less four months. Slowly, he went back to the empty flat. It felt cold and empty without her. He went over to the sofa and sank heavily down, raking his fingers through his hair.
The next few days were torture. He couldn’t sleep, think, concentrate or eat. All he could think about was Penny and how much he missed her. By the end of the week, he had reached the breaking point. Grabbing his keys, he dashed out of the flat. Fifteen minutes, he was standing outside of the house where Penny lived. A little girl answered the door. She looked curiously up at him. He smiled down at her. “Is your Aunt Penny at home?” he asked.
Just then, he heard Penny call out, “Jesse, how many times have you told you not to open the door–? She appeared and stopped short when she saw him. “Ben, what are you doing here?” she exclaimed, her eyes eagerly drinking in the sight of him.
He stared at her, longing to take her into his arms. “I had to see you,” he told her simply.
“Come in. I’m alone with the kids. Jesse, why don’t you go and finish doing your homework?” The little girl ran off, leaving them alone. She turned to Ben who couldn’t stop staring at her.
He pulled her into his arms. “Oh Penny,” he groaned, “I miss you so much. I want us to continue seeing each other as we were before and then get married after you graduate.”
Her eyes widened. “Married?” she exclaimed.
“Yes, I want to marry you. What do you say?”
“I say, yes!” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
A month after she graduated, they got married and honeymooned in Frankenjura, Germany where he took her rock climbing.