AIDAN chewed his lip and tapped his foot against the worn tile floor as he paced in front of his professor’s office. You can do this. You’ve known the guy for several months. If you can’t talk to him now, you’ll never be able to.
He took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, and knocked on the door.
“Come in,” he heard a deep voice say. Aidan suppressed a shiver.
He opened the door and closed it softly behind him as he stepped into the room.
“Leave the door open, please.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Aidan felt his cheeks redden a little as he grabbed the handle and left the door open halfway. “Is this enough?”
“Sure. Have a seat.”
Cursing in silence at his flaming face, Aidan sat in the chair in front of the small oak desk, which looked to be sagging under the weight of about ten textbooks and myriad notebooks. “So, um, I wondered if I could talk to you about my final essay?”
“Of course.” Professor Lake—or Simon, as Aidan thought of him—gave him a brief smile, then jotted something down in a notebook. “How can I help you?”
“Well,” Aidan began, but he stopped when he saw Simon wince and rub his forehead. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Yes, I just get headaches from time to time. Doesn’t help when I get stressed. There’s a book I’ve been trying to track down for some time, and I’m still not having any luck.” Simon massaged his temples and sighed softly.
“I’ve got aspirin if you need some,” Aidan said, fumbling through his backpack.
“If you do, I’d love a couple, because I just ran out, actually.” Simon smiled at him, and the overhead light caught the sparkles in his hazel eyes.
“No problem.” Aidan refrained from grinning in triumph as he held up the bottle of pain medication. “Here you go.”
When he handed the pills to Simon, their fingers brushed. Aidan suppressed a shiver and looked at Simon, whose expression remained the same.
“Thank you.” Simon took a water bottle and swigged down a couple of pills.
“So what’s the book you’re after?” Aidan rubbed his palms on his jeans.
“Transcribed Thoughts of Famous English Authors.”
“Oh. That sounds cool.” He’d never heard of it. “Do you, uh, often get headaches?”
“Yes, unfortunately.” Simon pushed a lock of floppy chestnut-brown hair away from his smooth face. “They’re usually worse when I’m under pressure.”
“Oh.” Aidan felt gripped by the sudden urge to rescue his professor from whatever troubled him. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Ah, don’t worry about me. Now, what can I help you with?”
“Right. My final paper.” Aidan wiped his palms on his jeans again. Damn, the man made him sweat. Nineteenth-century English literature had never seen such a hot professor, there at Rowdon University or elsewhere. “I know the due date is only, like, a week away. I’m not trying to do anything totally new here. I just wanted to check and see if something is okay with you.”
“I’m all ears.” Simon folded his hands together, and Aidan couldn’t help but stare at his long, slender fingers, smooth nails smudged with ink as if he couldn’t stay away from pens and books….
He shook his head a little. “I’m thinking I’d like to write about not just the depiction of woman as monster in Jane Eyre, but also other works, even if I just touch on them briefly.” He described his ambitions for the essay in a little more detail.
Simon nodded. “Sounds good to me. However, you might consider tailoring your argument to just a few texts, so the essay doesn’t go all over the place. I find your work is stronger when you focus on something narrower and do a close reading.”
Aidan bit back a grin. He noticed something I’m good at! Awesome! “Okay, I’ll do as you say, then.” Ooh, sounds naughty. Don’t take it too far, Aidan. “Thank you for your advice.”
“You’re very welcome. Did you need to speak with me about anything else?”
Oh, maybe to ask you out for dinner, or to a movie, or for some nice hot sex? “No, I think that’s all.” He drummed his fingertips on his legs. “How’s your headache?”
“Starting to feel better, thanks.” Simon tilted his head to the side and grinned. “You saved me.”
Aidan closed his eyes for a moment and let those words wash over him. “Glad I could help. Maybe you should, um, take things easy until you feel better.”
Simon chuckled. “Not very likely. I’ve got exams to prepare, an article I’m working on for an academic journal, and I’ve got to double-check my lesson plans for the summer classes I’m going to teach. Not to mention about a million other things.”
“Oh.” Aidan winced. He sat up straighter. “I wouldn’t mind taking some summer classes.” With you. “But I’ll be graduating in a couple of weeks, so I guess I shouldn’t bother.”
“Well, you can never have too much education. If I’d felt like I was done after I got my bachelor’s, I wouldn’t have gotten my master’s and my doctorate, and I wouldn’t be here teaching you.” Simon coughed. “And all my other students.”
The pause had lasted a mere second, but did it mean anything? Aidan knew he’d be pondering the moment for hours.
“Congratulations on your upcoming graduation, by the way.” Simon nodded at him. “You’ve done a great job in my class, and if your past work is any indication, I have every confidence you’ll do well on your final essay and exam.”
“Thanks.” Aidan resisted the urge to reach out and shake his hand. Simon probably wouldn’t be too weirded out by his actions, but he’d better be cautious anyway. “Well, I appreciate your help and advice. I’ll see you in class.”
“Yes. Take care.” Simon smiled at him again, but then suddenly frowned and rubbed his forehead.
Aidan lingered for a moment, but Simon said nothing more, so he turned and left the room.
He nearly ran smack into a girl with platinum-blonde hair and about ten pounds of makeup on her face. “Whoa. Sorry.”
The girl, who he now recognized as Tiffany Owens, and who sat in the front row and always wore low-cut tops to class, smirked at him. “That’s okay,” she said. She stuck her boobs out, not that they needed any help, considering the tightness of her shirt, and knocked on Simon’s open door.
“Hey, Tiffany,” Aidan heard Simon say. “Come on in.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Tiffany cooed. Aidan watched as she sauntered into his office and closed the door behind her.
His breath caught in his throat. Would Simon make her open the door?
Aidan waited ten or fifteen seconds, but his professor’s office door remained closed. His heart plummeted to his shoes, and he trudged off to his next class.