Diana could feel herself paling. She had never…oh God, she hadn’t even thought of that angle, and when she saw the professor’s tight-lipped gaze, she suddenly knew. Even without him telling her, she knew – this was probably one of the issues he had taken pains to bring up in the emails he had sent to her. Emails that she had moved to trash without reading a single one of them.
Luisa was right, Diana thought numbly.
I am being a kid about this.
And the people she wanted to help, the people who were supposed to be her purpose – they deserved better.
The professor asked her to stay behind as soon as Telemann began playing in the background and the rest of the panelists started to rise.
“Yes, sir.” Diana’s tone was subdued.
Nouveaux Quatuors Parisiens (No. 4 in B Minor) continued to play. It was one of her favorites, but for once, its serene melody failed to soothe her. It was like reliving one of those horrid blame sessions she used to suffer daily under her mother, and Esther would itemize every little mistake in the most disparaging fashion.
In those days, she had been able to bear her mother’s rebukes because she had known she didn’t deserve them.
This time was different. This time, she was at fault. This time, she had truly failed.
And when the professor finally gestured for her to come forward, what hurt even more was when he only said, “Do better next time.”
She swallowed hard. “You can shout at me. I was stupid.”
“I shouldn’t have ignored your emails. I…I know that now.”
“Whatever you have to say, I can take it.” So please, please, please be cruel. Because it was this quiet tone of his that she couldn’t bear. It made her think of so many stupid things, and she couldn’t risk that. She just couldn’t.
“So if you want to shout at me, just do it. I don’t deserve—”
“No, Ms. Leventis.” The professor’s tone was stiff. “It’s not about what you do or don’t deserve.”
Finally, Diana thought in relief. He’s going to be lash out. Hurt me. And most of all, he’s going to remind me just how wrong I was about him all this time.
But that was not the case at all.
“Remember why you are working on this in the first place,” the professor said grimly. “Recall the purpose that drove you and had my whole class moved to tears. Remember the people you wished to help – and next time, remember it’s about what they deserve.”
Instead, he showed her that she had been right all along.
Hearing what he had to say, knowing he understood where she was coming from despite her screw-up, how could she not see it?
She hadn’t been wrong.
He was a good man.
He just wasn’t good to her and for her.
The professor was getting used to missing her.
He knew this because the ache he felt whenever he saw her had subsided, its agony blunted until it was nothing but a dull ache, like an old, untreated injury left for time to heal. But while he had learned to accept the existence of such feelings, he continued to question its validity and veracity, the pragmatic (and cynical) side of him unable to help but wonder if these feelings were nothing but a manifestation of some character defect in him.
The feelings existed, but they might not be what they seem to be.
For how could one miss a person when the time they spent with each other was, in the sum totality of their respective lives, but a fraction, something no greater than a few snatched moments in a lifetime?
He had known her for a total of 37 days, and of those only six had been pristine, just six days that the professor had managed not to befoul with his personal darkness. Six days, regardless of how precious they were, did not and will never a week make, and it was really just this – the sheer ephemerality of their shared history – that the professor could not ignore and obliged him to contest the nature of his feelings.
Six god damned days, and just like that, she had become his fucking emotional thermostat, the speed and strength of his heartbeat reduced into correlative values of her proximity and perception of him.
Six days, and it had given her unprecedented power over his whole being, to the point that he found himself actually rereading her thesis like a Preston & Child paperback, devouring and analyzing every word just because her work was the only tangible thing he had of her.
His way of staying connected to her, he would silently mock himself in occasion, when all hope was lost.
And because her work drew heavily from Confessiones, the professor also found himself poring over the saint’s voluminous tomes in a last-ditch attempt to find a truth that would either justify or dispute the current role she played in his life.