But then, he’d said it wasn’t my fault.
And he’d called me by my name. The name I no longer used, as of sixteen days ago.
My split-second wish that he wouldn’t recall who I was went ungranted. I returned his penetrating gaze and could see he remembered all of it, clearly. Every mortifying bit. My face burned.
“Are you ready to order?” His question pulled me from my disorientation. His voice was calm, but I felt the exasperation of the restless customers behind me.
“Grande caffé Americano. Please.” My words were so mumbled that I half expected him to ask me to repeat myself.
But he marked the cup, which was when I noted the two or three layers of thin white gauze wrapped around his knuckles. He passed the cup to the barista and rang up the drink as I handed over my card.
“Doing okay today?” he asked, his words so seemingly casual, yet so full of meaning between us. He swiped my card and handed it back with the receipt.
“I’m fine.” The knuckles of his left hand were scuffed but not severely abraded. As I took the card and receipt, his fingers grazed over mine. I snatched my hand away. “Thanks.”
His eyes widened, but he said nothing else.
“I’ll have a venti caramel macchiato—skinny, no whip.” The impatient girl behind me gave her order over my shoulder, not touching me, but pressing too far into my personal space for comfort. His jaw tensed almost imperceptibly when he shifted his gaze to her.
Marking the cup, he gave her the total in clipped tones, his eyes flicking to me once more as I stepped away. I don’t know if he looked at me after that. I waited for my coffee at the other end of the bar, and hurried away without adding my usual dribble of milk and three packets of sugar.
Economics was a survey course, and as such the roster was huge—probably two hundred students. I could avoid eye contact with two boys in the midst of that many people for the remaining six weeks of fall semester, couldn’t I?
I dutifully emailed the econ tutor when I got back to the dorm after class, and started on my art history homework. While tapping out a response essay on a neoclassical sculptor and his influence on the style, I mumbled a thank you to my inner neurotic that I’d at least kept up in my non-econ classes.
With Erin at work, I could buckle down to an evening of quiet studying. Here in our microscopic room, she couldn’t help being a near-constant distraction. While I attempted to cram for an algebra test last week, the following conversation took place: “I had to have those pumps for my job, Daddy!” she argued into her cell. “You said you wanted me to learn the value of work while I’m in school, and you always say a person should dress for success, so I’m only trying to follow your words of wisdom.”
When she glanced at me, I rolled my eyes. My roommate was a hostess at a swanky restaurant downtown, a position she frequently used as an excuse for overspending her clothing budget. Three hundred dollar shoes, essential for a job that paid nine bucks an hour? I stifled my laugh when she winked back at me. Her father always caved, especially when she employed the D-word—Daddy.
I wasn’t expecting a quick reply from Landon Maxfield. As an upperclassman and a tutor for a huge class like Dr. Heller’s, he had to be busy. I was also certain he’d be none too thrilled to assist a failing sophomore who’d skipped the midterm and two weeks of class, and who had never attended one of his tutoring sessions. I was prepared to show him I would work hard to catch up and get out of his hair as quickly as possible.
Fifteen minutes after I emailed him, my inbox dinged. He’d replied, in the same formal tone I’d chosen after switching back and forth between using his first or last name in the address, finally deciding on Mr. Maxfield.
Dr. Heller has informed me of your need to catch up in macro and the project you’ll need to complete in order to replace the midterm grade. Since he’s approved you to do this work, there’s no need to share the reason why you’ve fallen so far behind with me. I’m employed as a tutor, so this falls under my job description.
We can meet on campus, preferably in the library, to discuss the project. It’s detailed, and will require a great deal of outside research on your part. I’ve been instructed by Dr. Heller as to the level of assistance I should provide. Basically, he wants to see what you can do, alone. I’ll be available for general questions, of course.
My group tutoring sessions are MWTh from 1-2:00, but those cover current material. I assume you’ll need more assistance comprehending the material you missed over the past two weeks. Let me know the times you’re available to meet for individual tutoring sessions and we’ll coordinate from there.
I clenched my jaw. Though perfectly polite, the tone of his email reeked of condescension… until his signature at the very end: LM. Was he being friendly, or casual, or ridiculing my attempt to sound like a serious, mature student? I’d alluded to the breakup in my email, hoping he wouldn’t want or ask for details. Now I felt as though he’d not only eschewed learning the particulars, but he thought less of me for letting a relationship crisis affect my academic life.
I read his email again and got even madder. So he thought I was too dumb to comprehend the course material on my own?
I can’t attend your sessions because I have art history MW 1-2:30, and I tutor at the middle school on Thursday afternoons. I live on campus and am available to meet late afternoons Monday/Wednesday, and most evenings. I’m also free on weekends when I’m not tutoring.