She was sitting under the tree when he joined her. A broad smile spread over her face. “Hi.”
He didn’t sit down but leaned against the trunk, arms folded. “Hi.”
He hadn’t meant for anything to happen between them. She was always by herself, not really socializing with the other students. He felt sorry for her and started talking to her, making sure that she was all right. She was a very bright girl and he found himself enjoying her company. They talked about all sorts of things ranging from politics to religion and the Arts. She was an avid reader so he lent her books from his extensive private collection.
They met at a certain time, twice a week on the university’s grounds to discuss the books and other things. He looked forward to seeing her and spending time with her. He knew that it wasn’t a wise thing to do because he was a member of the faculty and she was a student. He always kept their conversations away from personal matters. However, one day when they were standing under a tree facing the pond, he asked her if she was dating anyone.
When she told him she wasn’t, he was relieved. It was then that he realized that he wanted to be in a relationship with her. Nonplussed, he thought to himself, This is preposterous. I can’t get involved with a student. Besides, he had started seeing Marisa, a novelist he met a couple of months ago at a mutual friend’s dinner party. They were going to dinner and then opera that evening.
“It’s a beautiful day,” she remarked.
“Yes, it is.”
“I finished reading The Scarlet Pimpernel.”
“What did you think about it?”
“I really liked it.” She watched him. He seemed a bit withdrawn.
“Benita, we can’t see each other anymore.”
Her heart sank. “Why not?” she asked.
“It’s against the university’s policy for a professor or a faculty member to get involved with a student.”
“But, we aren’t involved. All we do is talk about books and other things.”
“Benita, I have to be honest with you. I—I want to do more than talk to you about books and other things. There are times when we’re talking and I want to hold your hand or caress your face or kiss you…” His eyes darkened at the thought. Agitated, he moved away from the tree and stood with his back turned to her as he tried to compose himself. “It would be best if we didn’t see each other anymore. When you’re finished reading the other book I lent you, just leave it with my secretary. She will see that I get it.”
Benita’s heart was breaking and tears glistened in her eyes. “Why can’t we see each other off campus?”
He was about to answer when his cell rang. It was Marisa. “Hello. Yes, I will pick you up at five-thirty. We’re having dinner at Boulevard Brasserie which is really close to the Royal Opera House. See you later. Goodbye.”
When he turned around, Benita was gone. She must have realized that he was talking to a woman. He closed his eyes in frustration. Why had he brought his cell with him or why hadn’t he turned it off. Why didn’t he ignore the call? And why did Marisa have to call right then just to ask him when he was picking her up and where they were having dinner. He thought he had mentioned all of that to her last night when they talked. That was really bad timing on her part.
Dejected, he stood there for a little while longer before he headed back to his office. In the following weeks, he found it next to impossible to stop thinking about Benita and wondering how she was. He missed her like crazy. Dinner and the opera with Marisa hadn’t turned out well. He tried hard to be a good date but he was distracted. By the end of the evening, he knew that it would be pointless continuing his relationship with her. He took her home and outside of the door of her flat, he broke up with her. Naturally, she was upset but he knew he was doing the right thing.
Three weeks later, he was in his office, staring at Middlemarch. His secretary, Lorna had told him that a student had left it with her. He didn’t need to ask which student. It was Benita. He had to see her. He glanced at his watch, got up from his desk and headed straight for the place where they used to meet, praying that she would be there. She was. His heart began to race and his steps quickened.
When she turned to face him, his eyes were restless on her upturned face, longing to touch it. “Hi, Benita.”
“I came here hoping that I would see you. How have you been?”
“Fine,” she lied. “I’m sorry I ran off the last time we were here. It’s just that…”
“I know. You were upset.”
“Yes, I was very upset.” She had run off somewhere secluded and broken down in tears. In the weeks which followed, she had thought of nothing else but him and had continued coming here, hoping that she would see him.
“I’m sorry, Benita. I’m sorry I hurt you. I thought it was for the best.”
“I’ve missed you so much,” he muttered thickly.
She swallowed hard. “I’ve missed you too.”
After glancing around to make sure that no one was around or watching, he reached for her hand. “I want to us to start seeing each other again but off campus.”
“I—I would like that.”
“Good. Meet me in front of the library at 6. I want to take you out for dinner.”
“Okay.” She smiled shyly up at him.
“I brought this for you.” He showed her the book in his other hand. It was Beloved by Toni Morrison. “It’s her Pulitzer Prize winning novel.”
Benita took it. “Thank you. I’ve always wanted to read it.”
He stayed there with her for a while longer and then it was time to leave. “I’ll see you later.” He gently squeezed her hand before releasing it. His gaze lingered on her for a while longer before he turned and walked away.
After he had left, Benita leaned against the tree. She clutched the book in her hand and smiled.