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Caroline's Choice

Caroline's Choice

Book excerpt

Victor Martinez paused in front of the office of his favorite professor. He had taken all four of his English classes from Dr. Caroline Jones, and even though he had long since completed the requirement, he liked to stop by and say hello to her now and again. Caring and involved beyond what her job required, Dr. Jones always seemed more like a friend than a teacher. It doesn’t hurt that she’s young and pretty. My days of stopping by to see her are drawing to a close. He sighed, reading a notice on the door inviting students to contribute to the literary magazine. If I had the cojones to write it, I could sure add a contribution to that… but it would reveal too much, and probably embarrass her. I should quit hanging around. I don’t even have a reason to be in the Humanities building anymore. None of his meandering thoughts stopped him from lifting his hand to knock.

Through the closed door, he heard Caroline’s normally soft and musical voice raised to nearly a shout, angry, and tinged with grief. It froze his movement colder than the frost outside the window. He’d never heard such a tone from her before.

“No, and that's final,” she said harshly, and then, a moment later, “No, it was your responsibility to make sure I knew how you felt, since you…” her voice broke, “you were the one with the unusual priorities.” After a long pause punctuated by rasping breaths loud enough to penetrate the door, she snarled, “It's over, William. Don't contact me again.” The telephone clanged into the receiver loudly enough for Victor to hear from the hallway. Shattered respirations told the rest of the story.

One of my favorite people in the world is hurting. The sound drew Victor like a magnet. I have to try to help her. He knocked gently and opened the door without waiting for a reply.

The move revealed a cozy, feminine space containing a desk topped with a purple and blue scarf, long fringes trailing over the edges. Behind and to the left stood two bookshelves loaded with textbooks and novels. To the right, a cream leather loveseat took up the entire wall. Framed sketches of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning hung above it.

Caroline sat behind her desk, her face buried in her hands, shoulders shaking. At his entrance, her head shot up, revealing a red nose and tears streaming down her cheeks. Victor stepped into the room and shut the door behind him.

“Hello, Dr. Jones,” he said gently.

“Victor.” She tried to smile. It wasn't convincing at all.

“What's wrong?” he asked, unable to suppress his growing concern.

“I suppose you wouldn't believe me if I said nothing was wrong.” She smiled, an unsteady twisting of her lips that revealed no humor. Victor just looked at her. “It's personal,” she added finally.

“Yes, I can see that,” he replied, “but it's not good to be alone when personal things are going wrong. Is there anyone I can call for you?”

She considered for a moment. “No, not really.”

“Then could you talk to me?” he urged. “I don't like to see you hurting like this.” What is that in her expression? Like… desperation. She must want to let it out.

“Don't you think it's a little unprofessional? After all, you're still a student, right?”

“Yes,” he admitted. “I have one more semester after this one. However, I'm not your student anymore. I never will be again, so I don't think we have to worry about that.” He took a breath, reaching across the desk to lay his hand on hers. “I would rather be your friend.”

Caroline smiled a little more convincingly. She likes that idea too. Excellent. Maybe I can cultivate a more personal connection with her over time.

“Please, come sit with me,” she urged. “Personal conversations shouldn’t take place across a desk.” She indicated the sofa and he moved there in three small steps. She joined him, settling onto the cushions and wiping her eyes with one finger as though to dispel any lingering wetness.

Lord, she's beautiful, he thought, with her glossy, chocolate colored hair clipped into a pixie cut that looks both sexy and innocent, her hazel eyes glowing even greener than usual. Victor's heart began hammering. I can hardly believe how bold I was, pushing this conversation on her. Everyone knows how shy I am... but this is CarolineThere’s something about her that has always dragged me from shyness into action. Besides, if there’s a human being who knows my innermost thoughts better than this woman, I can’t imagine who it would be.

A closeness exists between a nurturing teacher and a responsive student that transcends gender and age. After four semesters – two full years – of him writing with more and more openness, Victor had become a book laid open on her desk, and she had read every page. The bond went both directions, too. A teacher reveals feelings, likes and dislikes, and aspects of character. An astute observer can pick up on these cues and come to know the person behind the podium. Victor had observed Caroline closely. The step between student and friend was one of definition only.

They sat in silence for several seconds. Silence didn’t bother him, and it was a comfortable kind of quiet anyway, one that meant she didn't feel nervous with him there. “There's really nothing too shocking,” she said at last. “I broke up with my boyfriend. We've been together for almost three years. It was the right thing to do, but it still hurts.”

“What went wrong?” he asked, letting every ounce of concern bleed into his expression.

“I… well… I'm thirty-three years old, Victor. I want a family. When I started to talk to him about marriage, children, he said he wasn't interested in either one, ever. He figured on remaining single for life. I couldn't live with that. We have different goals and priorities. I guess we really don't belong together…” Caroline sniffled and rubbed her reddened nose.

What kind of jackass is this? “He doesn't want to get married? Have kids? What was he hanging around so long for?”

“I guess I just let him,” she replied, shoulders drooping. “We dated casually for a year before becoming… close. Then I assumed things were progressing, and he apparently didn't. I let our relationship drift too long, and it’s three years later. I'm no closer to having a family and…” she sobbed.

Victor took her hand in his. “And…” he prodded gently.

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