Welcome to Excerpt Monday, the brain child of writers Bria Quinlan and Alexia Reed, where writers - published, in-the-process-of or aspiring - post excerpts from works they've written.
Allow me to introduce you to a one Miss Sophia Stone and the man who is about to rock her world: Nathan Dunbar. He also happens to be Sophia's college professor.
The couple upstairs was at it again. There were no voices, no words at all. Just the steady thump of the headboard against the wall and the tell-tale creak of the hardwood floor as it heaved in synch with the bed. But that was all the evidence Sophia needed, to be sure that her neighbors were once again demonstrating their apparently undying - and untiring - affections for each other.
A grin formed, then spread across her face. Images and snapshots surfaced in her mind, memories of the passion she and Nathan had shared just the night before. My God Sophia, how did I ever live without you...? he'd murmured into her hair. Sophia never responded, caught up as she was in the bliss of the moment. But it never mattered; Nathan hadn't waited for a response. The passion too strong between them to allow for words, he drew a ragged breath before rendering her utterly speechless again by drawing her into a passionate kiss.
It had been three months and nothing had changed. Unlike men Sophia's own age, Nathan was focused, intent. His attention unwavering. To her mind, these qualities were a sign of his superiority over the college boys who could never know what she wanted, much less give it to her. But in the days before Nathan, those boys had pursued her relentlessly, nonetheless. Eventually they gave up, all of them. Sophia was impossibly unattainable. And as rumors of the star-student turned professor's pet spread, the would-be suitors came less and less.
For Sophia and Nathan's part, their initial attempt at discretion soon became futile. The more they attempted to disguise the electricity between them, the more apparent it became. Soon enough though, the rigors of New York University's graduate Design and Architecture program took center stage and thus silenced the rumors soon enough.
Jealous girls and jilted boys realized their attentions were better applied to maintaining their standing at school. And most particularly so if they were in any of Nathan Dunbar's classes. The man was known to be a professor who could both make and break his students, depending on the work ethic of the latter.
Sophia knew, without illusion, that her natural ability as a budding architect was what had initially made her a stand out for Nathan, or Professor Dunbar as most others called him. It wasn't that her beauty went unnoticed; just that it was irrelevant really, in a classroom where the material and the man who taught it, moved incredibly, impossibly, fast.
But when she remained one day to demand an explanation for a grade she'd received, something happened.
Students were filing out of the lecture hall. Some in a rush to get to their next class, others discussing whether they'd meet for coffee or take dinner together, later in the evening. Sophia packed up her things in a deliberately noisy way, which was absurd because the hall itself was the very definition of noisy. But Sophia was out to show how upset she was, and in this mode, she focused on almost nothing else.
Books in bag, purse slung over her shoulder, she descended the staggered steps to stand silently at Professor Dunbar's desk. The door closed behind the last student. Finally, the room was quiet.
He let a full minute go by, scribbling notes into a binder. Sophia watched the clock as nearly sixty painstaking seconds passed before he glanced up to say with raised eyebrows, "Yes?"
In response, Sophia too let a moment go by - a deliberate pause for effect. Then, dramatically, ceremoniously, she asked if she might have a word. The professor once again raised his eyebrows in response.
"Professor," Sophia began with bizarre confidence, "I'd like to talk to you about my grade on this paper...."
But she was abruptly cut off as the professor quickly pushed back his chair and removed his glasses in one swift movement.
"Miss - " he began, but then realized he didn't know this young woman's name. No matter; the message was the same nonetheless.
"Students are welcome to question the grades they receive in my classes. In fact, I encourage it. May I see the paper you're referring to?"
Silently, Sophia handed over her work.
"Ah, yes," Professor Dunbar said. "Normally you do receive better, don't you? Well, what happened here is simple. The material is there; the facts correct. But you failed to exibit your typical passion and flair. Your grade reflects that shortcoming. I trust you'll be motivated to perform at your potential, in the future."
And with that, he turned back to his work.
Sophia was furious. How dare this man, this pompous man, toy with her grades in this manner? But something else happened, too. The man sitting behind the small desk in the large lecture hall, seemed handsome to Sophia for the first time. Men her age weren't men, were they? They were more like large boys. Clad in jeans, henley or polo shirts. Sporting trendy, scruffy chins that, to Sophia, relayed no more sex appeal than an ungroomed dog.
Professor Dunbar, by contrast, was... well, put together. In the next moment, every impression she had of Nathan Dunbar seemed to converge. His pressed slacks, the tweed blazers; his tousled hair touched by hints of gray; the row upon row of books in his private office. The details that told the story of an educated and well-traveled man. Yet...
"That's absurd!" she cried.
"Some might say," he responded, not giving one inch.
The professor looked as relaxed as a day-tripper on holiday at the beach. This made Sophia all the more indignant. Still, his tactics were impressive, she had to admit. But he wasn't prepared for hers, that much she knew.
Sophia stared him down. She attempted to pierce him with the gaze that normally unhinged just about anyone. But in return, Professor Dunbar inhaled deeply and let out a slow sigh as he patiently waited for her to resolve herself to his decision.
He was unaffected. Had not yet blinked. Sophia, however, shifted on her feet. She took in a sharp breath and inadvertently squinted her eyes at him. The professor's own eyes remained emotionless. Sophia noticed they were an interesting shade of blue; enhanced, no doubt, by the gray of his jacket.
Finally she said,
"Well then. I can see I'll just have to speak to the department head about this."
But rather than look concerned as Sophia had anticipated he would, the professor's eyes danced with what she swore was amusement. Suddenly, he sat up in his chair, wheeled in closer to his desk and took up his pen.
"Alright," he said. "I'll make a note to myself. What would you like me to write?" Sophia stood speechless. "Or would you rather make an appointment? I can check my calendar." he said.
"Don't tell me - You mean - Oh, come on -"
All false starts. Sophia had lost her words and this infuriated the normally quite composed beauty, even more.
"So you're the Department head." she managed to say.
"In the flesh," replied Professor Dunbar.
"Well..." finally, she was giving up. Feeling beaten. "It isn't fair."
Professor Dunbar looked at her. His gaze was unwavering.
"Isn't it? Isn't it, Miss -"
"Stone." Sophia finished for him.
"Isn't it fair, Miss Stone? Isn't it just the motivational tactic you would use, if you were in my position? Let's say you had received a good paper, a really good paper from a student, someone you knew was capable of excellence. Wouldn't you find this a good tactic?"
It was her chance, and she knew it. Sophia took it.
"Not necessarily, professor." She feigned discomfort and shifted the bag she hoped he would perceive as too heavy for her slender frame.
"Really, if it were me -" she shifted the bag again and glanced about for a chair. She spied one nearby and asked, "May I sit?"
"You may," Professor Dunbar said, but he did not offer to fetch the chair for her. Instead, he watched as the girl dressed entirely inappropriately for a college campus, navigated both her book-bag, a too-large purse and a heavy wooden chair.
Perhaps, he thought, she'd never have to concede any of these things. Perhaps, as he suspected, she'd be good enough to make it after the University was finished with her, succeeding on a level which would allow her to make her own rules and dress any which way she wanted. But when she sat, settled herself and opened her mouth to speak, he stopped her.
"Actually," he said, "I'll do the talking."
He watched as she resigned herself to listen.
"You see, in this program, sometimes cutting edge architects are made. When a student takes a seat in my classroom, it then becomes my responsibility to afford them every opportunity to achieve their highest potential. Other professors would just as soon allow you to fly or fail, according to your own wishes and performance."
Though any other student would be listening intently, Nathan Dunbar knew this girl was merely awaiting the opportunity to get a word in edgewise. And it was true; Sophia's quick mind ruffled through a series of replies, fast retorts or statements that might manipulate the situation and swing the pendulum in her favor.
But she was smart enough to know when it just wasn't possible. This man, Sophia knew, wasn't going to budge an inch.
"Alright, Professor." she said, rising. "I see that this is just the way you do things. And I have to respect that."
In truth, Sophia didn't respect it at all. But she could see only one way to raise her grade.
"In the future," she continued, "if you feel I'm not working at my potential, could you please call me aside for a chat before you give me a less than fabulous grade?"
She tilted her head and allowed her hair to fall over her shoulder. It was a move that made most men go ga-ga.
"In the meantime, I'll just go ahead and re-do this paper. Hopefully, I'll get the grade you believe me to be capable of. You'll have it by morning."
Sophia flashed her most devastating smile, then turned to leave. She was about to execute what she felt to be one of her more dramatic exits, when the professor spoke.
"I'm sorry, Miss Stone. I don't allow students to re-do papers. I think you are well aware of that policy."
But Professor Dunbar could see the girl was determined. For that determination, he decided, he would give her a break.
"I'll tell you what. I have some work... a project for the University that is under deadline. I could use an assistant. Just an afternoon or two, maybe an evening. If you're available, I'll see what we can do to raise that grade."
Sophia knew that such arrangements were fairly standard. She also knew that the opportunity to assist Professor Dunbar on anything he might be working on, even if it was grading research assignments, would be an incredible boon. The job, however short, would look brilliant on her resume.
"Great!" she said. "When?"
"Well, I was going to head over to my office now, but I assume you've got other work?"
"Actually, no." Sophia didn't resist smiling. "I'm finished for the day. I'm all yours."
"Good, then." Professor Dunbar said. "I'll just close up the room."
He pushed back a folder, reached for his briefcase. As he turned the light switch off and held the door for her, Sophia looked up at him and smiled. To his complete surprise and later, to his dismay, he noticed that her eyes were precisely the color of chocolate.
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Copyright Jo Lynne Valerie, 2008
Published in trade paperback by Nature's Wisdom Media, 2009