Dear Diary, by the time I got to the right building at Longview University, my stomach was doing uncomfortable flipflops and I was wishing I hadn’t eaten breakfast. Hopefully, I could keep it down as the day progressed.
The science building was brightly lit and there was a cool fountain in the middle of the lobby, as well as couches and comfy looking chairs. Students milled around, talking to each other and studying.
As for me, I stood there as awkwardly as anyone could, wondering whether I should introduce myself to someone or just try to find the room I was supposed to go to for the lecture.
In the end, I found myself hanging back to observe the others. They all seemed to be associating in particular groups and I wasn’t sure yet where I belonged.
As if a magic wand had been waved over them, everyone seemed to disperse, going this way and that and I realized class would begin soon. When I found the lecture hall, I stood inside the door to look around as the students took their seats.
Xalen, who was near his desk, looked up after a moment and saw me. The smile that spread across his face, lit up the entire room and I found myself smiling back.
Then I stopped because my palms were sweaty, my stomach was threatening to explode and it occurred to me I must look like such an out of place dork.
I’m not sure he realized how uncomfortable I felt because he waved for me to join him where he was standing and called, “Hi, Marty! Come on down!”
Taking a deep breath, I found my heavy legs had a mind of their own as they propelled me forward. In my mind, I kept saying, ‘Please don’t trip, please don’t trip!’
But partway down, I began to wonder why I was so full of anxiety. It’s not like I was being led to the stake. Shoot, this wasn’t even my real class! So, I threw my shoulders back, remembered that I’m not too clumsy since I do martial arts, so it wasn’t likely I would fall down the steps. Then, I told myself to shape up because I was no longer six years old and this wasn’t Kindergarten. (These talks to myself really do the job, I have to say!)
“I’m so glad you could make it,” Xalen said, his expression soberer now.
He paused as if he was going to say something else and for a brief moment the icky sensation in my stomach returned as I feared he might do something incredibly embarrassing like introduce me to the class. ‘Please, no,’ my inner voice shuddered.
To my relief, all he said was, “You can sit anywhere you like.”
And so I did. Glancing around me while trying to act as if I wasn’t glancing around me, I noticed the students began to pull out notebooks and pens and I wondered how they knew to do that. But of course, they were in a routine of what to do, so they were probably just doing what they normally did.
As Xalen began to speak, some of the students began writing in their notebooks. Others hadn’t started yet but were listening intently to him.
His voice was commanding and he moved around a lot while he lectured. Almost immediately, I found myself drawn into the topic at hand.
He spoke at length about how anthropology was the study of humans, both in the past and present. Later, he touched on different kinds of anthropology. There was sociocultural, biological (that’s what Xalen’s doctorate was in), archaeological, and I think linguistic. And each of those had branches to delve into. I don’t remember all the branches, but there are a lot, like paleopathological and primatology. There were lots of others, but that’s all I can recall on that.
As Xalen continued, I came to the conclusion that this was kind of a beginner’s course on the subject because then, he went deep into the history of anthropology and discussed the key fields that are studied like art and music.
Partway through, from the corner of my eye, I noticed a redheaded girl who kept looking in my direction. My cheeks burned red as I figured she must be looking at me. But at the same time, I was hoping to make friends, so maybe it was a good thing she’d noticed me. No one else seemed to have noticed I was there.
“Are there any questions before we move on?” Xalen asked, bringing me back to the topic at hand.
A guy diagonally in front of me said, “Yeah. I guess I always thought that anthropology dealt with the past. But you’re saying there are fields of study that are more modern.”
“Indeed,” Xalen said. I liked how he listened intently to the entire question and then actually answered it. “There are some very interesting topics related to present time. There is the study of film, for instance. Visual anthropology is focused on ethnographic photography and new media among other things – new media meaning from the mid-1990s and on. However,” he added, “also in this area is the study of museums and art. If you’re interested in hieroglyphics, cave paintings, jewelry and even tattoos, this is a great area to study.”
This led Xalen into the subject of cultural phenomena and research which I didn’t fully understand but am determined to find out more about. I think a trip to the library and the internet are going to be a help here.
After class, all the guys grabbed their stuff and left right away while the three girls, I included, headed down to where Xalen was standing. As I was about to say something to him, the redheaded girl stepped between us, pushing me out.
Normally, I wouldn’t let this sort of thing go by without some kind of confrontation. I don’t know what comes over me but maybe I just can’t stand the pushy, self-centered types of people that feel more entitled than everyone else.
Anyway, I did let it pass this time because I thought maybe she had something urgent she had to discuss with him and, after all, I wasn’t actually a student and she was. When I began paying my tuition for a good education, I might get pushy, too.
Still, it was kind of awkward seeing how strangely close she stood to him.
“Dr. Sprague,” she practically purred, “I was having a little difficulty with the material and I wondered if you could give me some help.”
Raising an eyebrow, he said, “Miss…. Jones, isn’t it?” When she nodded, he continued, “I’m afraid I don’t have the time to tutor anyone just now but if you make your way to the student services building, they can provide you with one. Unless there is something specific you have a question about right now?”
I couldn’t hide my smirk when her face turned redder than mine ever had. Go, Dr. Sprague!
“No, it was just in general,” she murmured, turning away from him and glaring at me. “Move it, Sister!” she growled.
“Are you talking to me?”
“Duh! Why are you so underfoot? Every time I turn around, you’re there, in my space! Don’t you know what personal space is?”
Part of me was stunned but, unfortunately for her, the other part of me was getting hot under the collar, as my dad would have called it. “Oh, I think I know what that is. For example, you were just now standing in Dr. Sprague’s personal space, falling all over him.”
From behind me, I heard a snort of laughter and the redheaded girl glared at me, then hurried out. Dr. Sprague was clearly pretending he was paying attention to his desk calendar, so I turned to see who had snorted.
She seemed nice enough, so I said, “Hi, I’m Marty Larochette.”
“Holly Paxton. I like how you handled Andrea a minute ago. She’s so snooty.”
“Well, thank you,” I smiled.
“I haven’t seen you around, but school hasn’t been in session for long. Did you drop a class and transfer into this one?”
“Ummm…. no. Not exactly. I was just sitting in on the lecture to see if this was a subject that interests me.”
“I see. Well, I have to get to my next class. See ya’,” she said before hurrying off.
“She’s nice,” I said as Xalen joined me.
“Yes, she seems to be. So, what did you think of the lecture?”
With a huge smile, I told him about all the things he’d said that really stuck with me. “I’m so glad I met you, Xalen. I need to research more about it, but this is something I could see myself doing long term.”
He smiled, too, his gray eyes twinkling. “That’s wonderful, Marty. If you need help with anything, I’m only a phone call away.”
At the time, I didn’t think anything of that statement, but looking back on it now as I write it all down, I wonder why he was willing to help me and he’d sent Andrea to the student services building? Xalen has never been inappropriate with me in the least, so all I could think was that maybe it was because Andrea Jones had been so obvious about not really needing help studying.
During the next week, I went to Xalen’s lecture several times. Each time I heard him speak so passionately about what he did, I knew more and more that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
Xalen had been all over the world since he was a kid, watching his parents find amazing things. Then, he’d gone to school until he had a doctorate and while he wasn’t an archaeologist, he was the guy that studied the artifacts and relics later.
I began to feel, in my soul, that the adventures I was seeking laid in faraway lands and that archaeology was definitely my future. I didn’t care about marriage and children and I didn’t know if I ever would. Mine was going to be a different kind of life.
Which all brings me to where I am now, standing outside Xalen’s beach house. He called to see if I could stop by since he knew my entrance exam retakes were just a couple days away.
I agreed right away to meet with him, but I’m not stupid. We’ve gotten to know each other really well since we met. And when we talk about archaeology, you may as well throw away the clock because time is lost. But, I brought Gloria with me as an excuse not to get too….. personal if that’s where this was heading.
It isn’t that I didn’t find Xalen attractive, it was that I wanted him to stay my teacher if that makes any sense. I like our relationship and, at the moment, I’m of the opinion that I need to focus on my future. Right now, I’ve got things to do and guys ain’t one of them.
“What a cool house!” Gloria exclaimed.
“You can say that again.”
So she did. I laughed and rang the doorbell.
“Marty! Wonderful to see you. And who do we have here?”
“I’m Gloria, I’m Marty’s cousin and I’m going to be a teen soon, and I love school! Except for math. Well, math has gotten a lot better. I’ve learned if I take the time to do the problems right the first time, my mom is much easier going the rest of the night. Do you like math? Do you have to know math for what you do?”
“Gloria, for pete’s sake,” I said.
If Xalen was disappointed or upset that Gloria was there, he didn’t show it. “Well, I know when you’re in school, you begin to think, ‘When will I ever use this?’ But you know what? I use math all the time and not just for work but in everyday life. So I think it’s a good thing to understand.”
After a melodramatic sigh, she said, “I knew you were going to say that! I can really tell you’re a teacher. How long have you been teaching anyway? Is Marty going to take your class for real? I like your house! Do you have any kids?”
“Gloria, good heavens!”
“No, no, she’s fine,” he laughed, leading us into the living room where I welcomed the heat from the fireplace.
“Oooooh, this is nice! May I go outside and look around?”
“Only if you promise to stay away from the pool,” Xalen said. “Do you think you can do that?”
“You bet! I’d rather swim in the ocean anyway, but don’t worry, I’ll stay away from that, too.”
Standing at the glass doors in the living room, I watched her to be sure she was doing as she was told. The view was breathtaking with ocean as far as you could see. Even though the doors and windows were closed, I could smell the salt in the air. That smell always took me home and I could almost hear Momma’s voice calling me to come in and get washed up for dinner.
Xalen sat on the sofa and said, “Have a seat. There is something I would like to talk to you about.”
As I sat next to him, I couldn’t help but feel cozy with the fire blazing away. There was something about Xalen that always put me at ease.
“Marty, you do not know how thrilled I am that you are going to pursue your education in the field I love most. I am so glad we’ve had the opportunity to get to know each other.”
“I am, too.”
“Good. Now, I know you’re a bit nervous about taking the exam again.”
“That’s an understatement.”
He laughed under his breath. “I kind of thought it was. But, I want to wish you the best of luck. I believe in you. I know you can do this.”
“But how are you so sure?”
“Because the Marty I have gotten to know does not let anything stop her. And you are very intelligent.”
He gasped a little bit as if he couldn’t believe I’d said that. Yet, I had never thought of myself as particularly smart. Laurent was the smart one. Susan was the other smart one. Not me. I always felt like I was barely hanging on by my thumbs while Susan and Laurent ran circles around me.
“Well, I suppose you must trust me on this if you do not see it for yourself. Look at it this way, I would not waste my time with you if I didn’t think you had what it takes to make it in this field.”
He had me there.
For the first time, I thought about it. Did I trust him? Was he wasting his time? Glancing back at him, I saw a familiar determination and certainty. It was familiar because it matched my own.
“Yes, I trust you.”
“Good! Now, after you pass this test, I have an opening for an assistant, if you would like. It would mean better hours because you would already be on campus, better pay and instant answers if you have questions about the material you’ll be studying.”
I held my breath to stop the tears that threatened to overtake me. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined I’d find a mentor like this. Then I realized I’d taken a few minutes to answer and I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t interested.
“You forgot the best part.”
“And what is that?” he asked.
“I get to lose the candy outfit and wig!” I said brightly.
When Gloria and I got home, I was walking on air. Yes, I had the most important test of my life coming up in the next couple days, but nothing could ruin how I felt at that moment.
Aunt Ruby greeted us with her usual question to Gloria about what had been up to. And, in typical Gloria fashion, she began at the very beginning when we got in the cab to go to Xalen’s house. She told Aunt Ruby everything, down to the route we’d taken and landmarks we’d passed.
*Note to myself…. learn how to drive already!
When the longwinded kid finally shut it down, I was able to tell Aunt Ruby all that had happened. She was duly impressed and excited for me, then she showed me the mail.
I got a letter from Susan! My heart skipped a beat as I tore the envelope open.
With shaking hands, I reread the letter, willing it to say something different. Finally, I crumpled it up and ran upstairs as fast as I could. Aunt Ruby was calling me as I ran, but I couldn’t deal with explanations right now. I needed to be alone and to sort this out.
Surely, I misread that. Susan would never – Theo would never – but upon rereading, it said the same dreadful things. My eyes kept returning to where it said, ‘used to be best friends.’
Used to be? What was that? How could they do this to me? How could Susan agree to marry him? My own sister! How could Theo ask her?
My heart felt wrenched from my chest and I was afraid I was having a heart attack. Slowly, I sank onto my bed and my tears began to turn to anger.
Those lousy jerks!
Between hiccuping sobs and such intense anger I thought I would burst, I pulled myself to the computer and began to furiously type a letter back to Susan.
I wrote every ugly thought that came into my head and exactly how I felt about her news. It wasn’t fair that she got into uni on her first try! It wasn’t fair that she stole my boyfriend!
What was happening?
I called my own sister every name in the book, willing her to have the worst marital life one could possibly have. I wished upon her failing grades and strife!
And then I buried my face in my arms, pushing the keyboard away. My tears were nearly spent and I felt a cold hand wrap itself around my heart, squeezing it like a vice. I wiped at my face, but tears continued to flow, just when I thought there were no more to be had.
Even then, I knew I would never send this letter. The little Susan I’d always known would never hurt me on purpose. I didn’t necessarily feel like giving her the benefit of the doubt in that moment, but I didn’t want to curse her either.
Theo, yes. But not my sister.
Still, I knew nothing would ever be the same between any of us again and it hurt like a pain I’ve never known.