tagGay MaleThe Halls of Academe Ch. 02

The Halls of Academe Ch. 02

byKen Nitsua©

After that abortive trip to the lake the semester went on. I was glad when things got busy the way they always did toward the end, as it left me little time to think about Drew and whatever relationship we had, which wasn't much. When I saw him around our building he was pleasant, but remote.

He stopped coming by to my office to chat, even after class hours. If we happened both to be staying late he'd say hello, go into his office and shut the door. Somehow our workouts at the pool no longer coincided either.

I couldn't blame Drew. Hadn't I told him to back off? I swallowed my hurt pride when he gave me the brushoff, and tried to convince myself it was for the best.

People who knew us both began to notice something was amiss. One day during my office hours I heard a knock. A female voice said, "Got a minute?" I was disappointed it wasn't Drew. "Hello, Marsh. What's up?"

Marcia Hannon was our specialist in European History. There had never been any doubt about her getting tenure, which had happened a couple of years back. She was pushing forty but, with her petite figure and lively sense of humor, seemed younger. The students loved her, despite her reputation for giving some of the hardest essay exams on campus.

She approached me and sat in a nearby chair. "Just wondered, Glenn--did you turn in the check requisition for our Ambrose series speaker?"

I clapped my hand to my forehead. "Damn, that totally slipped my mind. Have I really screwed up this time?"

Marcia was unperturbed. "Not really. If you get it in by the end of the day today the business office can still have it ready when Dr. Gill gets here. Otherwise, we'll have to tell him we'll mail his honorarium. That might be a little embarrassing, considering how small it is."

"For sure. Thanks for the reminder. Ever thought of being chair?"

She rolled her eyes. "Please. Don't even joke about that. Although," she added, peering at me, "You do look like you could use a sabbatical."

"That bad, huh?" I kept my tone light. I didn't want to get into why I might be so stressed. Marcia leaned forward and lowered her voice.

"Golden Ohlen isn't giving you grief, is he?"

I was taken by surprise. "What? No. What about you?"

Marcia shrugged. "He and I are cool. Of course, we're in different fields so he doesn't see me as competition. Some of the other faculty aren't so keen about him, though. I heard a certain person who shall remain nameless trashing him in the Commons at lunch the other day."

"He wasn't an English professor with the initials E.L., by any chance?"

She smirked.

"I might have known." Despite our recent break I felt compelled to defend Drew. "You know what his problem is. Jealousy, plain and simple. Elden Lewis wishes he could have gotten an article into a top-tier journal when he was a grad student. Have a book manuscript under review by Stanford University Press."

"I grant you all of that. Still, Drew brings some of it on himself, you know. If I had all those credentials--and looked like Brad Pitt to boot--I'd be a bit more gracious to those less fortunate than me."

I smiled. "Everyone knows you are graciousness personified, Marcia."

She laughed. "Flattery will get you nowhere. I am not taking the department chair from you." She rose. "Good luck, Glenn. I don't envy you having to write Drew's first-year evaluation."

"What am I going to give him besides an unqualified rave? Everyone's still in shock that he actually came here."

She raised her eyebrows. "Well, I shouldn't spread rumors, but from what I've overheard some of my students saying, he's not knocking them dead in his classes this semester. He might need your help."

I tried to keep my voice calm and detached. "Assuming he'd accept any from me."

She gave me a curious look. "Yes, there is that. Take care, Glenn."

I sat and thought about what Marcia had said. So it wasn't all smooth sailing for Drew Ohlen at Steelman College. Brilliant scholars weren't always great teachers. In fact, they could be downright lousy. If Drew really was having a lot of trouble relating to the students here, it was my duty as his chair and mentor to help him.

Trouble was, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I remembered the scorn in his eyes at my stupid remark about compromising my objectivity. In that one moment I'd lost his respect. I could imagine what his reaction would be if I offered my help.

I'd rejected Drew to keep our professional relationship intact. Now I didn't even have that cold comfort.

"Coward," I said to the empty air. No one contradicted me.

***

"Glenn?" I wheeled around, startled. I was standing in the men's locker room of the Steelman College natatorium. It was the third of January, the week before classes would start for spring semester.

I had gone that afternoon to start working off the extra pounds that always managed to climb on me and hitch a ride during the holidays. The campus was almost deserted and I hadn't expected to see anyone at the pool, other than the student lifeguard trying to make a few extra dollars over the break.

"Drew...how are you?" My heart was thudding, and not only from surprise. I hadn't seen Drew Ohlen for several weeks, since he had been back in L.A. over the break. He was dressed in workout clothes, shorts, singlet and new shoes, all of which set off a glowing California tan. Of course he hadn't gained an ounce. He looked great.

Just my luck that he'd caught me at this moment. I'd stripped down to nothing and just put on the swimmer jock I always wore under my suit to hold me in place. Even though he had already seen me naked I blushed, acutely aware of my stomach above the waistband. I hurried into my trunks.

Drew didn't seem to notice my embarrassment.

"Fine. Listen, can I come talk to you before school starts?"

This was a change. "Sure. What's up?"

He sighed, put his hands on his hips and looked at the floor. "I need some help."

"What's wrong?" Now I was really concerned.

He smiled. "Didn't mean to scare you. I need to talk to you about my fall course evals. Have you looked at them yet?"

"To be honest, no." I was supposed to look at the course evaluations for junior faculty in my department after each semester was over, but had put that task off.

"Well, just so you'll know. They're terrible. I knew there were some problems but I didn't think they'd be this bad. I'm really worried. If the Provost sees them he'll fire me on the spot."

"He wouldn't do that." I'd seen junior faculty in this state before. It was always a shock to read the things some students would say when they knew they would be anonymous. They could be vicious.

"How about tomorrow at one, Drew? Bring your copies and we'll go over them and figure out what we can do. Trust me, it's not as bad as you think. We can turn this around."

Drew sighed again. "If you say so. Thanks, Glenn. I'll see you tomorrow."

He had sought me out for the first time in many weeks. I should have been overjoyed, but I wasn't. I was determined to stick to business, help Drew become the good teacher I knew he could be. That was all.

But after several weeks of not thinking of him, I knew the way I'd seen him today, tanned and fit, muscular shoulders bare, chest hair peeking out of the low collar of his singlet--that image was going to haunt me tonight as I tried to sleep.

I stood in my trunks, glad that the jock had held my goods in place. The pouch was stretched full. If I hadn't been wearing it things could have gotten embarrassing.

The next day we sat in my office and paged through the copies he had brought me of his evaluations.

I tried not to let Drew see my reaction, but I was concerned. He hadn't been exaggerating. This wasn't a case of one or two disgruntled students. The same negative comments appeared over and over again. Unless everyone in a class had conspired to "get" Drew--not likely--the fact that so many students had said the same things meant they just might be true.

"Well," I finally said, "We're going to have to figure out why they think you're not concerned about them. Also why they score you so low on being open to diverse views."

"Glenn, what am I supposed to do? Sure, these kids are bright, but lots of them have been brainwashed by Texas public education. I think they got pissed last fall when they found out they didn't know everything."

"And you do, Drew? Know everything, I mean?"

He blinked. "No, of course not. C'mon, you know me better than that."

"I do. But these kids in your first semester World History Survey don't. They're running scared, feeling academic pressure, some of them for the first time. It's easy to crush them, make them feel small. That seems to be what you're doing."

"So what should I do?"

"Don't just lecture. Get them involved. Ask them questions, what they think. Then listen to what they say, no matter how stupid it seems. Find something that you can work with."

"But there's material I've got to cover. What if they wander off-track?"

"Then you steer them back. Remind them what the topic is. Call their attention to specific passages in the reading that you want them to consider."

Drew was silent, then shook his head. "This is going to be really difficult."

I let my voice harden. "Teaching is as important as research here. Do you want to be a good teacher, or not? Do you want to get tenure, or not?"

He looked up, startled. I backed off, just a bit. "Drew, you've met and overcome challenges before in your career. This is just another one. I'll help you all I can." "How?"

"Well, let's work on one class. The second semester World History Survey, since it's going to be your biggest, and it has a lot of General Ed students in it. With your permission, I'll sit in at least once a week--more if I can--and observe. Then let's set up a weekly meeting and talk about what I saw."

I was aware of Drew looking at me. I kept talking.

"I also recommend that you do a midterm course evaluation. Pass out the same form if you like, or you can make up one yourself. That way, you still have time to make changes if things aren't going well. I'll go over those with you too, of course."

"How are you going to find the time to do all this?"

I shrugged. "I'll make the time. This is important."

Drew leaned forward. There was a look in his eyes I hadn't seen in quite a while. My heart began to beat faster.

"Glenn, I can't tell you how much I appreciate this."

I kept my voice casual. "Thanks not needed. It's my job."

"Spending hours a week helping one faculty member is not part of your job." Drew got up to go. I heard him say under his breath, "Damn, I wish--"

"What?"

He looked back, his eyes neutral again. "Nothing. See you Monday at nine? Room 103."

So I started observing Drew Ohlen's World History class. At first the students were curious, but after a few sessions they soon forgot I was there. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for several weeks I sat quietly in the back of the classroom.

The class had eighteen students in it, large for a discussion-based class but not unmanageable. After a very short time I made a surprising discovery: teaching in this format made Drew nervous. All the signs were there. He talked fast, too fast for some students to follow. He cut them off when he thought he knew what they were going to say. He moved around the classroom without a clear purpose. And though he had worried about the students wandering off track, in fact he was the one that went off on tangents.

He was aghast when I told him all of this.

"I really do that?" he said, several times. I nodded.

"If you want to see for yourself, we can try videotaping a session or two. The students will really notice, though. It'll change the entire dynamic of the class."

"No, we don't need to do that." Drew shook his head. "I just can't believe I'm so bad at this."

I tried to reassure him. "These aren't huge problems, Drew. Look, the students can tell you know your stuff. They just want to feel like they're partners in the learning experience."

His smile was crooked. "You know and I know that the last thing graduate school does is make you feel like a partner in the learning experience. If we're motivated, we learn everything we need to know. Everything except how to teach."

"Well, better late than never."

"I thought my student days were finally over. Guess not."

I looked at him as he bent over the notes I had given him. This was a different Drew from the confident Adonis who had swaggered into our department for his interview last spring and bowled us over. Against my better judgment I found myself missing that man. Maybe with my help he'd be back soon enough.

"I forgot to say one thing. I've really enjoyed watching you teach."

He snorted. "Like hell."

"I really have." It was the truth. Despite his problems in the classroom, Drew's brilliance and ease in handling complex topics was breathtaking. Often he went over students' heads, true, but I could appreciate the quality of his mind.

What I didn't tell him was that I also appreciated the chance to sit and stare at him for hours every week, watching his blue eyes flash every time he got excited. Or waiting for that glowing, irresistible smile to break out. Or tracing the V-shape of his back and shoulders with my eyes when he turned to write on the board. Checking out his tight butt in the fitted khakis he wore to perfection.

I could lust after him to my heart's content, and no one was the wiser.

Gradually Drew's teaching improved. He seemed more at ease, making jokes, poking fun at himself. The students noticed this and were more willing to speak up. Discussions got livelier and there was frequent laughter. A unit on the role of women in traditional society precipitated a fiery debate, when Drew asked the class to think about whether things had changed all that much in the modern world.

I stopped him in the hall after that class and gave him the thumbs-up sign. He nodded, flushed with excitement, and said, "Yeah, that went pretty well, didn't it?"

"It was great. You really got them fired up."

He shook his head. "I'm amazed I can do that." Self-deprecation was another skill at which Drew was improving.

I put my hand on his shoulder, shivering inside at the small liberty I was taking. "You're passing out the mid-term evaluations next week, right? I bet you're going to be happy with what they say."

"Damn, I can't believe it," Drew said. We were in my office a week later, course evaluation forms in an untidy pile on my desk.

"I think this is what they call a slam dunk," I said, keeping my voice level, though I was as excited as he was.

"I especially like this one. 'I can't believe this is the same professor I had for World History I last semester.'" Drew laughed as he picked up another form. "Or this one. 'I enjoy listening to him as much as looking at him.' Can you believe a freshman woman would write that?"

"Might not be a woman," I suggested.

He didn't pick up on my remark, just leaned back in the chair and heaved a sigh. "I don't mind telling you, Glenn, I was really scared. Scared I wouldn't be able to do this." He sat forward again and looked directly at me. "Thank you. Now let me take you to dinner, to repay you a little bit for all you've done for me."

It was a late February day, already warm, and the sun was shining into my office. What I really wanted was for him to suggest we go to the lake again. That wasn't going to happen.

I said, "Thanks, that would be great."

He grinned. "I get to pick the place. I am a first-year Assistant Prof, remember."

Drew's taste in dining out ran to cheap Mexican, lubricated with strong margaritas. As the evening wore on we got more and more boisterous. He regaled me with irreverent anecdotes about famous scholars that he had worked with--people I could only dream of meeting.

He finally paid the check and we left the restaurant, lurching a bit but trying our best to appear sober and composed as we got in my car. Fortunately we were only a few blocks from the Steelman campus and my house.

"Oh, damn," I said, as we approached the limestone buildings of the college.

"What's the matter?" Drew asked.

"Well, there's a report I've got to read tonight, not that I'm in any shape to. Mind if I stop by the office and get it?"

Drew grinned. "Such a workaholic."

We pulled into the parking lot and I got out. To my surprise Drew opened his door.

"I'll come with you. I need to walk some of that tequila off."

The building was locked, so I used my passkey and punched the code in to disable the alarm. Our footsteps echoed off the tiled floor of the corridor.

We reached my office door, unlocked it and went in. My desk was in its usual chaotic state. I forgot about Drew as I rummaged among the various piles.

"Where the hell is that Religion Department report? I am not going to ask the Provost's Office for another copy. Here it is. Thank god--"

I turned with the looseleaf binder in my hand and recoiled, startled. Drew was behind me, his face inches from my own. His warm breath, fragrant with alcohol, bathed my face.

His strong hands grasped my shoulders.

"Glenn. Listen to me. Please."

"What is it?"

His blue eyes were dark with emotion.

"I want to apologize."

"Apologize? For what?"

He lowered his eyes and shook his head. "For being such an asshole last fall. Rushing things. Trying to force you into bed with me. If you only knew how many times I've beat myself up for doing that."

"There's no need for you to do that."

His eyes pierced mine again. "Yes, there is."

"Drew--"

He shook his head. "I was a cocky, arrogant fool. I thought I teaching here would be a breeze. That everyone would just fall in love with me, including you." He let me go and turned away. "I know better now, but it's too late. Because I've lost you."

I reached out and grasped his shoulder, feeling the muscle knotted beneath his shirt.

"It's not too late."

He turned, startled. "What?"

Now it was my turn to eat crow. I wanted him so badly but even so the words stuck in my throat.

"I've thought about that day at the lake."

Drew's face and neck flushed a deep red. His hand went to the back of his neck, and a rueful grin appeared on his face. "Please, don't remind me."

"It's not that. I didn't make you back off because I didn't want you."

He said nothing.

"I said no because I did want you. Like crazy. So much that it was scaring me to death." Drew's mouth opened, but no words came out. I rushed on.

"I've done a lot of thinking since then. You were right about everything. I can't believe I have the nerve to ask, but I'm wondering if the offer's still open."

A long silence. Finally Drew spoke. "What about that stuff you said? About professionalism? About, how did you put it, compromising your objectivity?"

I shook my head in disgust. "All bullshit. Chairspeak. I've gotten really good at it."

We looked at each other. My heart skipped a beat as I saw a slow smile spread across Drew's face.

"Maybe it's time to stop talking."

He raised a hand toward my face. I caught at it in mid-air and pressed it, hard, to my lips. He gathered me into his arms. At last I was where I had dreamed of being, pressed against his chest. I heard his heart beating, as loud and fast as mine.

We stood, rocking back and forth. As much as Drew's physical being had filled my fantasies over the past months, at that moment I felt nothing sexual, just simple tenderness.

Then Drew pressed his lips to mine and tenderness was gone. We kissed frantically, tongues, lips and teeth grinding and clashing against one another. I ran my hands over his body, marveling at the hardness of his torso. When I started to pull his shirt out of his pants, though, he stopped me.

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byKen Nitsua© 4 comments/ 21436 views/ 5 favorites

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