Author:H.M. Ward

chapter 4

When I get back to the dorm room, I’m in a foul mood. I met the perfect man and screwed it up. I don’t even know what I did! Was it raking my nails on his arm? Did I remind him of his dead cat or something? I walk down the hallway. The doors are all open. I live in an all-girls dorm. Some are in their PJs while others are still wearing their clothes from the day.

I pass a few doors and wave to the girls inside. Someone whistles at me as I walk by. “Hot mama!” a blonde girl shouts. I don’t know her very well. We wave coming and going to class every day and that’s about it. I look at her and she waggles her eyebrows at me, assuming that I got some.

Yeah, I got nothing.

I round the corner and see my door open at the end of the hall. Dread fills my throat with worry. I don’t want to discuss Peter with Millie. Plus, she’s going to be pissed that I ditched her at dinner. That was a crappy thing to do, but Dusty—oh my God. Could she possibly pick someone more inappropriate? The only thing worse would have been a grizzly old biker with a toe fetish. Damn.

I stare at the door and feel the decision wash through me. What happened with Peter is best forgotten. I don’t want to talk about it. Getting rejected is bad enough, but the fact that I just met him and let him do so much, and then got rejected—well, that’s worse. It’s like rejection a la mode. As if regular blow offs weren’t cool enough. I shake out my worries and try to put on my game face. Nothing’s wrong.

Our room is the social hub of the floor tonight. I walk inside and step over six girls doing crunches on the floor. I look at Millie and give her a what-the-fuck face.

She’s sitting on her chair by our shared desk. It’s built into the wall. From the lack of sweat and general lack of agony, I assume that she’s waiting her turn. There’s no more room on the floor. “We found an old Abs of Steel tape. Megan said she could do the entire workout. We all took bets on who’s going to die first.”

I nod and sit down on my bed, tossing my purse on the nightstand. Millie watches me for a second. I can tell she wants to talk, but she won’t say anything, yet. Good. I kick off my heels and grab my stuff and head to the showers.

Today sucked. I want to wash it all away. The entire day.

As I stand in the shower, I let the hot water blast me, but no matter how long I stand there, I can’t get the memory of Peter’s hands on my body to go away. It’s as if he tattooed his touch on my mind. I don’t know what I did wrong. I don’t know if I would have had sex with Peter tonight—going that far, that fast would have been unusual for me—but I didn’t think things would have ended so abruptly, either.

I try to shake off the hot and bothered feeling that has me coiled so tight, and head back to my room. It’s been about twenty minutes since I left. Six girls are lying on the floor, clutching their stomachs.

“Oh my god! I’m gonna die.” Evie says, from her side. She’s curled into a ball. Her dark hair spills around her head on the floor like a bottle of ink.

“I told ya’ll that it was hard! I told you, but no one ever listens to me!” Millie’s talking with her hands on her hips, giving everyone an I told you so.

“So,” I interrupt, “who won?”

Mille looks at the sorry lot and shakes her head. “Tia lasted the longest. Nine minutes.”

Tia raises her arm in the air and sticks up her thumb.

I laugh, “Awesome, Tia, and congrats to all of you. That workout is insane. You’re all going to be hunched over like 90-year-olds tomorrow.”

Someone starts to laugh, but it’s quickly followed by a moan of remorse.

Millie looks up at me from her bed. She’s sitting with her legs folded, hands in her lap. “So, where’d you disappear to all night? I thought you would’ve wanted in on this?” Millie has a head of soft blonde curls. She pulled them up into a high ponytail when she got home and is wearing a tank and boxers.

I shrug as if it doesn’t matter, but the pressure inside my chest tells me that it does. “Nowhere, really. I’m sorry I bailed on you.”

Millie seems annoyed, but then her shoulders slump and I can tell she’s forgiven me. “I shouldn’t have made you come.”

Tia blurts out, “You took her on another blind date? You must want your ass kicked, Millie.” It’s true. Everyone else knows better than to ask me by this point in the year.

“Jersey Girl won’t kick my butt,” Millie says, and makes a face at Tia. “I’ve got immunity.”

I laugh, “Not after tonight. No more blind dates. Please restrain yourself and don’t set me up with anymore assholes, okay? I can find them all by myself and when I do, I need you to feed me ice cream until I puke.”

“Ice cream?” Tia says from the floor. I glance down at her in time to see her sit up. Her face contorts in pain. “What are you, twelve? Big girls get hammered after a shitty date.”

I don’t get hammered. Not anymore, but none of them know that. I laugh with them and agree to go to the bar tomorrow night. I have to work the following morning, so I can skip out early—unhammered—and no one will think anything of it.


The next morning I arrive at work early. I’m a teacher’s assistant, a TA. I work in the English department, since that’s my major. The offices are upstairs, away from all the classrooms. Me and a few other student workers are milling about, wondering where the professors are since the offices are glaringly empty. At this time of day, the place is usually bustling with activity, phones ringing and copy machines humming. The profs are usually in a rush to make it to their 8:00am classes, but today isn’t like that.

Today it’s eerily silent.

I walk in and head back to Tadwick’s office. There’s no indication that he’s here; no steaming coffee mug, no glowing computer screen. He must be running late.

I put my purse in his desk drawer so no one swipes it, and look at the pictures on his desk. Tadwick’s not that old for a professor, maybe forty-five, with thick brown hair and dark eyes. There are two little girls in one frame looking at Tadwick like he’s the world’s best dad. They seem happy, which is so different from my home life, I can’t even imagine it.

I walk back out of his office and join the others. Someone calls ‘five minute rule’ and we all laugh. I hop onto an empty student worker desk that’s located outside of Dr. Tadwick’s office. The Graduate Assistant or GA, Marshal, is pacing, wearing a hole in the carpet. Being late is something he can’t fathom. Add that to his slightly OCD personality and he looks like a caged lunatic. We’re all going to be late, because something is obviously going on, so it’s not as if this tardy will be his fault. Classes have already begun. It’s 8:05am. All the TA’s and GA’s are supposed to sign in and then head to class, but no one is in the main office. The sign in sheet isn’t out. Nothing’s out. Everything is still locked up like it’s the middle of the night.

All the teachers are gathered in a conference room at the end of the hall. One of the student’s, Ryan, tried standing outside the door to listen, but eventually he came back saying that he couldn’t hear a thing.

“Where is everyone?” Marshal asks me in a panicky voice. He’s a tall skinny blonde with a skater’s body; meaning lots of tightly corded muscle, not too big, not too small. He’s easy on the eyes. Unfortunately, he’s way too crazy to consider. Take a high-maintenance girl that’s a total control freak and socially oblivious, and that pretty much sums up Marshal’s personality. Even though he’s a bit hard to put up with, the teachers love him because of his impeccable work. Everything he does is perfect.

“They’re in the conference room,” I say, picking at my nail. An uneasy feeling is swimming in my gut. I can’t imagine what would make them blow off the workers and their classes this way.

Marshal huffs, “Discussing what? Class already started. You know all the 101 classes are going to call five minutes and leave.”

I nod. “True, but Tadwick’s harsh. He’s shown up twenty minutes late before and marked everyone absent.” Since he only allows two misses, that screwed over half of the class. “The man’s a legend, in terms of avoiding his wrath, anyway. I doubt they’ll leave.”

Marshal and I are assigned to the same professor. He takes care of the upper-level classes and I do the 101 classes. Since the sound of my nervous nail picking is making Marshal glare at me, I switch and rub at a piece of lint on my sweater. He sighs and shakes his head. It’s not my fault that I respond to tension by fidgeting. Besides, I didn’t sleep too good last night, and I refuse to have two craptacular days in a row.

I fixed a smile on my face this morning, and it’s not leaving my face, no matter what happens.

I swing my legs and lean forward on the desk, planting a hand on either side of my hips. A second later, Tia staggers in and flops onto a couch on the other side of the room. All of her things fall on the floor next to her and she moans.

“What’s wrong with her?” Marshal asks, glancing back at Tia. “I hope she’s not sick. She can’t be here if she’s sick.” His voice raises half an octave as he speaks.

“Calm down, lunatic. She won the Abs of Steel workout last night.” He blinks at me, not understanding.

Tia interjects, “My abs weren’t up to it. Fucking Pilates class. It feels like someone used my guts for a punching bag.” She groans and rolls onto her side.

Suddenly, Marshal turns toward me. “I think that story about Tadwick failing half the class is just a rumor.” He taps his fingers to his lips and says, “But still, a good rumor has been known to strike fear into freshmen. Maybe they’ll stay.”

“They’ll stay,” Tia says, from across the room. I don’t why she laid down. She won’t be able to sit back up. Tia’s hand waves in the air as she speaks. “My class, on the other hand, is probably already gone. They don’t wait two seconds for Strictland.”

Marshal glances at her and waves her off. “That’s because Strictland’s a pushover.”

Someone clears her throat from the doorway behind Marshal. “Am I? I wasn’t aware of that.” Dr. Strictland walks into the center of the room. It’s the central space between all the offices. She glances at Marshal. “I’ll go harder on the class this semester and tell them to thank you for it, Marshal.”

Marshal’s eyeballs are going to pop out of his head. The corner of Strictland’s mouth tugs up. She likes teasing him. Marshal has an issue with understanding sarcasm. Strictland gives him a look and says, “As if I’d do such a thing? Really Marshal. Learn to tell when someone is pulling your leg.”

Dr. Cyianna Strictland is the head of the department. She’s an older woman, with copper-colored skin and streaks of gray peppered through her auburn hair. She usually wears a vivid pant suit, but today she’s wearing solid black, which is very out of character. Strictland waves her hand to cut off Marshal’s groveling pleas. The look in her eye makes my stomach drop. Something bad has happened.

Continuing, Strictland folds her hands in front of her and says, “There are more important things to discuss. I’m afraid that I have some bad news. As you may know, Dr. Tadwick’s classes have been twice a week since last year when he had a heart attack. He made a stunning recovery and was about to start back full time, however—” she presses her palms together and looks around the room at us, “Things didn’t go as planned. Dr. Tadwick passed away over the weekend.”

My jaw drops open along with everyone else’s. Tadwick joked about his heart attack when he came back to work. He was so full of life, so young compared to the other profs. He had a new outlook on life and was ready to make a dent in the world. Most of the professors here could pass for twice his age. In comparison, Tadwick’s the young teacher. He was the teacher everyone hoped to get.

Shocked gasps fill the room. I see my horror mirrored in the faces around me. We all liked him. Strictland gives us a moment and then speaks gently, “I know, I know. It was sudden. Everyone thought he would…” Strictland’s voice is strained. She tries to keep the emotion off her face, but she can’t. “He was a trusted colleague and a good friend.

“In light of what happened, we have had to find a quick replacement so that the students in Dr. Tadwick’s classes could complete their courses. The university has hired a new teacher, one of my previous students, to temporarily to teach his classes.

“Sidney and Marshal, you can meet him in a moment. He’s gone to the classroom to inform the students of the change. I’m not certain if he plans to hold class today or let the students leave. We left that decision up to him.” Marshal and I nod.

I can’t believe Tadwick’s dead. A wave of shock hits me and doesn’t let go. His poor little girls. My heart clenches inside my chest. I met them a few times. The last time I saw them, they came up here with their mother to bring Tadwick dinner. It was a big surprise. Now he’s gone. There’ll be a hole in that family that won’t mend. My eyes sting, but tears don’t fall. I’ve spent too much of my life crying. They won’t fall unless I let them, and I can’t. Not here. Not now.

Strictland eyes me, as though she can see my thoughts on my face. “The funeral is this afternoon, if you would like to attend and pay your respects.” Strictland gives the location along with some other directions before turning to me and saying, “Please help the classes transition. Some of the students may be very upset. Dr. Tadwick was a promising young teacher. No one expected this.”

I know the students will be upset, especially in Marshal’s classes. The upper-level classes are small. Everyone knows everyone else. My 100 level classes are large with hundreds of students. Most of them didn’t know Tadwick very well. I have no idea how they’ll take it. Stunned, I nod and turn to leave. My class is downstairs right now and the new guy is probably being eaten alive.

I feel that hollow place at the center of my chest as I walk down the stairs and think about Tadwick. My emotions are such a jumbled mess. Add in the incident from last night and I can feel my grip on my emotions slipping away. I keep getting blindsided. Images flash through my mind, filled with Tadwick’s smile, his voice, his lessons—things he taught me that won’t ever be forgotten. For the vibrancy of his life to be snuffed out, it just seems so pointless. It’s not fair. I feel the weight inside my chest sink into my stomach and think I might puke. I can’t do anything except think that Tadwick’s still alive, wearing his patchwork coat with the big ugly buttons. I picture him at the lectern, and know that I won’t see him there ever again.

There are some people who take the time to teach others. And, at the time, it seems silly. At the time, I thought I knew everything, but Tadwick had a gentle way about him. Life is a journey, he would say. No one knows everything, and the best part is that you don’t have to. He meant that I didn’t have to figure everything out to live my life.

There’s a difference between wisdom and knowledge. Tadwick was wise. My throat is in knots as I approach the classroom door. Normally, I would enter from the side and go sit in the first row, but not today.

The lump in my throat has grown so large, so impossible to swallow. I stand in front of the main doors to the classroom, and stare at the silver pulls without moving. I say a little prayer for Tadwick, inside my head, for his family, before I go inside. I don’t really believe anything, but I can’t help it. It seems like the right thing to do.

When I pull open the classroom door, I see the endless rows of seats. They are still full. I guess new guy is continuing class without a break. A student is talking, answering a question from Antigone, the assignment for today.

Glancing down to the front of the room, I see the new teacher’s black suit and don’t bother to look at his face. I walk down the stairs slowly. No one looks at me. They all know I’m the TA. I stare at my feet as I walk down the staircase toward the front of the massive room. I feel as if I’m in a bubble. The sounds around me blur, but about half way down the stairs my attention snaps to the front of the room. The hairs on my neck prickle and I feel eyes on me.

Slowly I lift my gaze to see who’s looking at me. They lock on the man at the front of the room. He stares at me for a moment, and I shudder. Every inch of my body is in overload. I feel my brain breaking and falling apart inside my head.

This can’t be happening, not to me, not now.

I stop and stare.

It’s Peter.