“Hayleigh?” Tara’s fingers snapped in front of her. “Hey!”
Hayleigh’s gaze refocused on her friend’s face. “Sorry, you were saying...?”
Tara’s forehead creased. “I wasn’t saying anything. I was calling you and you weren’t responding.”
Hayleigh dropped her bag, not realizing it was still on her shoulder even though she had been sitting on her bed for minutes. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
“Yeah, I gathered that much. You just walked in here like a zombie and scared the hell out of me. Is everything alright?”
No, everything was not alright. Her professor had just asked her out on a date. And she said yes.
What the hell had she been thinking? Why did he even ask his own student, of all people? She’d been under the impression she’d become persona non grata the way he called her out in class so much. Was that why he’d been picking on her? Because for some odd reason, he liked her?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You barely know each other.
Hayleigh buried her face to her hands. “I think I just did something completely stupid.”
“Uh oh. What did you do?”
There was no way Hayleigh could tell someone else about it, and yet Tara was one of the most sensible people she knew. Perhaps...
Hayleigh chewed on her bottom lip and winced. “I... may have said yes to a date.”
“Oh my God! Who?!” Tara squealed, sobering quickly when Hayleigh did not smile. “Wait. Is he ugly?”
“No.” Far from it.
“Then what’s the problem?”
Because he was her teacher? “I hardly know him.”
“Isn’t that the point of a date? To get to know each other better?”
Hayleigh opened her mouth, and yet there was nothing else she could think to say without giving away the truth.
“Wait, who is the guy?” Tara excitedly squirmed in her seat. “Is he someone I know?”
“No,” Hayleigh quickly answered. “He’s not from this school.”
Tara raised an eyebrow. “Is he from Tinder or something?”
Hayleigh had never even used the app before, but it was a better answer than she could ever think of in that moment. “Sure.”
“I did not expect you to be the swiping type.” Tara looked almost impressed. “Good for you though. At least you can have a social life now.”
Hayleigh groaned with a laugh. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You never join me in any parties and you’re always studying.” Tara shrugged. “Now you can finally have some action.”
Professor Henderson’s face flashed in Hayleigh’s mind. A strange tingle went down her spine.
She quickly pushed the thought away and collapsed face down on her bed.
Oh God, she was in trouble.
Hayleigh couldn’t stop looking at her watch.
It was only ten minutes left before four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. She was currently at a bookstore, pacing restlessly down the aisles.
In a few minutes’ time, she was set to meet up with Professor Henderson at the café across the street. The journey to arrive at this point had been nerve-wracking, from constantly questioning her life decisions to messing up the entirety of her wardrobe deciding what to wear. Trying to act normal in Stat class the whole week had been just as difficult, and every time her eyes met Professor Henderson’s, her face would go up in flames. How was she going to manage having coffee with him at this rate?
This wouldn’t be a problem had she not said yes. It didn’t help she had a hard time saying no to people in general. What more to her own teacher? While Professor Henderson didn’t seem the type, the thought of her class standing being affected was something she may have risked had she said no.
The feel of book spines against Hayleigh’s fingers was calming as she ran a hand over the shelves. It was foolish to be tempting fate, especially when she had a scholarship to worry about. The last thing she needed was a distraction—and god forbid if somebody took it the wrong way—it could even be grounds for expulsion.
Then again, it was just coffee. What was the harm? It was too presumptive to get ahead of things though admittedly, it was flattering. While Professor Henderson looked to be at least ten years her senior and was practically one of the strictest professors on campus, he was undeniably handsome. He seemed much more approachable during make-up class, which was something he’d been kind enough to set up just for her. Perhaps he wasn’t as bad as she thought. It wasn’t fair to pass judgment on someone she hardly knew.
Hayleigh straightened a nonexistent crease on her casual, pink floral dress. Tara had nearly strangled her as they argued over which outfit was most date-appropriate. Apparently, all guys loved a crop top and mini skirt, especially after Hayleigh was forced to show a Facebook profile of a guy she had dated once in high school when Tara demanded for a photo.
“Football team, you said? Yeah, he’d totally love that,” Tara concluded. “Just remind him of a cheerleader and you’re good to go.”
If only Tara had any idea who Hayleigh was really going out with.
Across the street, a man who looked oddly like Professor Henderson entered the café. Hayleigh’s pulse escalated to an all-time high as she took a deep breath and mustered the courage to leave the bookstore.
The door chimes seemed too loud, like it had just announced her presence to practically everyone in the entire coffee shop. She nearly wanted to bolt as soon as Professor Henderson’s eyes locked on hers when he immediately spotted her by the entrance, but he was already standing up and walking towards her. It was too late to back out now.
Professor Henderson approached her in a black leather jacket, grey V-neck, and denim jeans. He looked younger and much more approachable. He didn’t even look like a teacher at all.
“I’m glad you came,” he said with a small smile. He placed a feather-light touch on her arm as he guided her to their table. A waitress was quick to arrive, and he ordered a cappuccino while she went for an iced mocha.
“Sweet tooth?” he mused. She snapped into attention, yanking her wandering, uneasy gaze away from observing the coffee shop’s interiors.
“Yes,” she answered, sitting up straighter and fighting the urge to squirm. Why was it proving hard to look him straight in the eye and talk like a normal person?
“You look really uncomfortable.”
A nervous laugh escaped her lips. “That obvious, huh?”
“I understand if you think this is a bad idea.”
She was thankful for the waitress who placed two glasses of water on their table, giving her a few seconds more to gather her thoughts. “It’s just that... won’t you get into trouble or something?”
He slowly leaned back in his seat. “I don’t see how having coffee is a bad thing.”
“Fair enough,” she murmured, wringing her sweaty hands on her lap.
“So where are your books? I thought this was supposed to be a review?”
The smile on his lips loosened a knot inside her. She exhaled and allowed herself another laugh.
“You’re right. Where did we stop again the last time?”
They stayed in the coffee shop until closing time. The hours passed by like minutes, and while Professor Henderson chose to listen more than talk, Hayleigh grew comfortable talking about anything and everything with him. She shared her passions, hobbies, worries... practically her whole life story, and it felt good to confide in someone again. In turn he offered advice that only someone of his age could give, and by the end of the night, she felt infinitely closer to him than she’d been with anyone in a long while.
“You’d make more money as a therapist than as a Math teacher,” she concluded as his car stopped in the parking lot of her dormitory. “Ever considered switching careers?”
“I’m on a bond with this university,” he answered. “In return for teaching, they absorb some of my student loan.”
“That’s not a bad setup. Maybe I should do the same.”
“If you’re fine earning less for a few years, then go ahead.”
“Is that why you look like you hate teaching?”
He pulled on the brake. “Excuse me?”
Hayleigh bit her tongue. “I’m sorry. That was rude of me.”
A hollow laugh rumbled in his throat. “No, it’s a fair observation. I’ve been teaching for five years. But I’ll say this: I dislike teaching less than I did when I first started.”
“Ever thought of changing your teaching style? You know, maybe be less strict or something?”
“No. It’s easy for students your age not to take things seriously. It’s easier to manage fearful students than unruly ones.”
“So like a dictatorship.”
He chuckled. “Something like that.”
“You’re crazy.” She shook her head with a laugh, which continued to an unstoppable giggle. “I’m sorry. I think I’ve had too much caffeine.”
He only regarded her with a pensive smile. Over the course of that afternoon she observed his smiles were always reserved and far in between, and usually no more than a smirk at best. It almost felt like an achievement to earn one in succession now, aimed directly at her.
Suddenly, that realization made her become hyper-aware of everything, from the quiet darkness outside to the way he felt closer beside her inside the car.
Hayleigh uneasily cleared her throat. “Well, I had fun today.”
“Me too,“ he said. “Let’s do this again sometime.”
Despite having spent most of the day with him, she was still yet to figure out what he must’ve seen in her to ask her out. It felt wrong to keep questioning it, and yet it nagged in the back of her mind. Perhaps if he wasn’t her teacher, it wouldn’t bother her as much...
“Thanks for driving me home, Professor.” She undid her seatbelt. “You didn’t have to.”
“Call me Rowen, please.” He shifted in his seat to face her completely. “And I hope it’s okay if I call you Hayleigh.”
“That’s fine,” she said in a small voice. Her gaze darted to the steering wheel, to anywhere else except those intense, grey eyes. Her heart began to race, though it was hard to tell how much of it was from the coffee.
She placed a hand on the door. “Well, have a good night.”
His fingers gently reached for her arm to hold her back. When she faced him again, his lips claimed hers.
Her mind went blank. For seconds, all she could think about was how his mouth felt warm and full with the faint taste of black coffee. His lips were assertive but gentle. Testing her, asking her.
The right thing, the proper thing would’ve been to push him away. It was wrong to be kissing her teacher in front of her goddamned dormitory. So what if it was in his tinted car on a late Saturday night? Anyone could still see, and then they’d both be in major trouble...
And yet, the voice of reason could do nothing to stop what was happening. His lips felt so nice, and despite the overwhelming feeling that nearly robbed her of her breath, she couldn’t break away.
His hand moved to her nape, deepening the kiss. She felt so inexperienced, and yet the desire to please him grew stronger with every second they remained lip-locked. A voice in her head whispered for more, but the thought vanished as soon as she pulled away for air.
She put trembling fingers to her swollen mouth. She closed her eyes, unable to look at him. “I’m sorry, I…”
“It’s fine.” His voice sounded strained. Slowly he released her, and her body suddenly felt cold.
“See you around,” she stammered, feeling more foolish and mortified by the second. “Good night.”
It was rude not to look at him before leaving, but she had already clambered out of the car. She raced up the steps to her dorm and headed inside without turning back. She bolted straight for her room, slamming the door behind her. She leaned against it and breathed hard, like she’d just run for miles. Thankfully, Tara was still out.
Oh God. She squeezed her eyes shut. What did I just get myself into?