Never Felt This Way
I've never had a crush in my entire life. Okay, maybe one or two if you count fictional characters, I guess. I've always been fascinated with Richard III and am rather partial to Sherlock Holmes. I know some women love the Austen heroes, especially Mr. Darcy, but I never came across the giggles or "the swoony feelings" that my cousin Susan got when she read all of the Austen novels. Afterward, she pressed the lot of them into my arms and said, "You have to read these. They'll teach you about romantic love."
But they only made me more confused. Why does Elinor Dashwood show so little regard for Edward Ferrars that it would seem she has no interest in him? And I have never become irrational and senseless over anyone like Marianne or Sister who tends to be obsessed with someone new every month. She is majorly "crushing on" that blond boy from the Titanic right now, but I don't see the big deal about him. He made a terrible Romeo and for me, that's unforgivable.
Until now, however, I've never experienced this awestruck, butterflies-in-stomach anxiety over anyone. Not sexually or romantically, anyway. I used to believe I was asexual like most people who suffer from my condition. I've never looked at a man before and thought, "I would like to have sexual congress with that individual. I am interested in seeing his genitals up close."
And then this man comes along...
"So," he says, dropping his leather briefcase on the professor's desk to make a loud enough noise that catches everyone's attention. "My name is Professor C___ C___ T___. You may refer to me as Professor T____ or Doctor T____."
"How about Doctor Hottie?" the girl behind me whispers a little too loudly.
The professor raises his head and looks directly at me with a slight frown on his lips. Does he think I was the one talking? Petrified, I point to the girl over my shoulder. He raises one eyebrow in response and something happens to my entire body. My bones turn into water and I'm suddenly in danger of sliding out of my chair and becoming a useless puddle on the ground.
He brings out a large notebook and opens it on a lectern. He begins to call out names in alphabetical order. His voice is magical. I can only describe it as... a panther narrating its own nature documentary like Sir David Attenborough. It's a rich, velvety, indulgent timbre: like at any moment, you could expect him to say, "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die." His voice feels like a pair of hands wearing silk gloves slowly and meticulously sculpting the curves of my body.
Is this what sexual desire feels like? This weakening of limbs and being stuck in a body that is a vessel of want and need with skin that is two sizes too small and yearns to be touched?
"...S___. Is there a D___ S___ in this room?"
I snap out of it with a gasp for air like I was being held underwater for a few minutes and just now allowed to surface. "Yes," I wheeze. "I'm D___ S___."
He stares at me for a moment while the rest of the class laughs at this instance of awkwardness. "American. Northern Californian, I would say. Welcome."
My face heats up and I'm sure I'm the color of a bright red tomato. I hate being the focus of attention for any length of time. "San Francisco," I confirm. "Thank you, sir."
"May I ask why you have those gigantic headphones around your neck?" he asks gently. "They're rather distracting. Will you put them away?"
My hands go up to the earcups of my headphones and hold on tightly. I can feel a single drop of cold sweat running down my spine. My breathing is becoming short and choppy. "I beg your pardon, sir, but I can't."
The professor lifts one eyebrow. "And why not?"
My hands tremble as I continue to hold on to the earcups and work on stabilizing my breathing. I am a leaf in the wind. Watch me soar. "I'm partial to them, sir. And they keep my neck warm."
The professor stares at me as though he couldn't decide whether or not I was being a smartass, and frowns. "At least turn off the music, Miss S. It's time for class now, not the Late Nite Slow Jam radio programme."
With my face burning, I reach into my pocket and press STOP on my mp3 player.
He nods briefly to acknowledge this gesture and moves on, calling out the names of the rest of the students. As soon as that was finished, he returns to the spot in front of the desk, tall and imposing, and says, "Welcome to an entire semester dedicated to the study and understanding of the texts written by Mr. William Shakespeare. I'm sure most of you are familiar with at least two or three of his works. This is England, after all, and there have been countless movies and TV shows inspired by his plays and other works." He points to a guy in the front row wearing a blue and orange rugby shirt and a baseball cap cocked sideways on his head. "Will you name one or two, young man?"
The guy smirks and looks behind over his shoulder at the rest of the class as if to ask, "Can you believe this dude?" He shrugs at the professor and says, "I don't know, mate. I'm just taking this class because my girl asked me to."
The professor extends his arm slightly and slaps up the brim of the student's cap so that it sails over his head. He catches it easily behind him with his other hand and tosses it in the trash. "You aren't on a street corner hanging about with your mates. For a reason I cannot fathom, you are sitting in a classroom of the hallowed institution that is Oxford University. You will behave accordingly."
The guy makes a move for his cap, but the professor freezes him in place with a glare and raps his knuckles twice on the student's desk to bring the class to order. "Is there anyone who can tell me an example of a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's work?"
To my own horror, my hand goes up and his gaze immediately swings to me, pinning me to my seat. "Disney's The Lion King, sir, and The West Side Story by Bernstein and Sondheim."
He nods in acknowledgement. "Very good. Based on which works?"
Even though my heart is beating in my throat and my mouth is so dry that when I swallow, I cough like I'm dying of consumption and almost fall out of my desk. "Hamlet, sir, and Romeo and Juliet," I wheeze.
Seemingly content with my answer, he moves on to the other students, asking them why they're taking this class and what they hope to gain from it. The girls are all perky and eloquent with their answers, each one more impressive than the one before. It is obvious they are trying to one-up each other in effort to stand out from the others and catch the professor's eye.
I frown, wondering if I should be doing the same thing. I am, after all, desirous of having sexual intercourse with this man.
We start the class with Twelfth Night in order to analyze the gender warfare in Shakespeare's work and the notion of being able to express oneself fully as a man, but not as a woman.
He seamlessly segues from analysis to lines from the play and I realize immediately that he is reciting a monologue by the Duke Orsino from act two, scene four.
Before I can even process what I'm doing, my mouth moves and words spill out. "Ay, but I know..."
There is zeal in his green eyes that scare me a little when he pivots toward me and says, "What dost thou know?"
I freeze for what seems like an eternity, unable to come up with any words at all. My mind is a complete blank. This has never happened to me before. If there is one thing I've always been able to count on in my life, it's my brain. My mouth starts to move, but no sound comes out.
The professor says, "We can't hear you, Miss S."
"Too well what love women to men may owe: In faith, they are as true of heart as we," I recite a little louder than a whisper, my voice trembling. "My father had a daughter loved a man; as it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, I should your lordship."
Dr. T stands directly in front of me and folds his arms over his chest, scrutinizing me for a moment before saying, "And what's her history?"
I hear some grumbling behind me, then some giggles before a voice says, "What's her story? I can't bloody hear her. She's mumbling!"
"Don't say 'bloody'. It makes you sound common." The professor doesn't look away from me. Again he asks, "And what's her history?"
I lick my chapped lips and wipe my sweaty palms on the legs of my jeans. I want to peek at his face for longer than half a second, but find myself unable to do so. Looking directly at him is to look directly at the sun. "A blank, my lord," I respond a little louder, clearing my throat. "She never told her love, but let concealment, like a worm i' the bud feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought; and with a green and yellow melancholy. She sat like patience on a monumental, smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed? We men may say more, swear more: but indeed, our shows are more than will; for still we prove much in our vows, but little in our love."
Silence greets my recitation and my face turns beet-red. I never draw attention to myself. What the hell am I doing now?
Gravity infuses his already somber voice and he suddenly looks quite weary. "But died thy sister out of her love, my boy?"
I take a deep breath and meet his gaze, hoping to hold it for a few moments, but like a coward, I immediately look down at my shoes. "I am all the daughters of my father's house, and all the brothers too: and yet I know not."
"Good effort," he says after several lapsed seconds. "It's wonderful that at least one of you knows the Bard's lines by rote memory, but that is it. There is no heat." He turns to me. "Miss S, did you even really comprehend what you were reciting? You sounded like a robotic recording. No inflection, no heart."
My face burns in mortification as the rest of the class laughs. I clasp my hands together in my lap and feel my throat close up. As a child, I was non-verbal and chose to speak via American Sign Language because I couldn't get my mouth to say what I wanted to suit my purposes. My mouth was an inelegant, clumsy tool and so I reverted to my hands.
"And I understand you're from America, Miss S, but some of your pronunciations were just awful," the professor tells me. "Shakespeare's verses are meant to flow like a song from the mouth of its speaker, but you clomped through them like a newborn horse who hasn't yet learned how to use its legs."
The class laughs again, but the professor raises his hand, quickly shutting them up. "At least Miss S knows her Shakespeare. How many of you have read anything else outside of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet?"
He looks at me again and our gazes hold and lock. This time, I will not be the first one to look away. Soon enough, I found myself raising my hands and signing quickly at him. I figure if he asked what I was saying, I would just say I'll be much better next time.
But his eyes glitter as he responds to me in sign language just as proficiently while speaking out loud. "Do it louder. Go on, then."
When I say nothing, he recites, "Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times thou never shouldst love woman like to me."
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. My voice is failing me again like it has all those other times. I run his last words through my mind and analyze his tone and accent. Not just London-posh, but true upper class. Born in old money.
My lips tremble, but I manage to say, "And all those sayings will I over-swear; and those swearings keep as true in soul as doth that orbed continent the fire that severs day from night," in a perfect imitation of his accent.
The whole class hoot and holler, some of them whistling and clapping their hands.
The professor studies me for what seems like an eternity, stripping me to the bone with just his stare before he replies, "Give me thy hand and let me see thou in thy woman's weeds."
I'm sitting in a pub with XL and Sarah as well as a few other people. In front of me is a shepherd's pie that XL tells me I have to absolutely try because it is the best he's had in all of England.
Just the sight and smell of it are making me sick. I have no idea how it was prepared or by whom. I don't know the state of the kitchen where it was prepared— whether it's spotless or utterly disgusting. I imagine that the chef has a severe cold and wipes his nose on his sleeve and isn't very good at washing his hands.
"You haven't touched your food, girl," says Sarah with a warm smile. "Eat up. No wonder you're so skinny. What kind of diet did you have in San Francisco?"
I tell her I'm vegan and don't eat anything with animal byproduct: no meat, no eggs, no cheese. The group looks at me with horrified awe.
"I would die," says a strikingly attractive British-African girl called Melanie. "Egg and cheese are as vital to me as breathing."
"And that's why you're constantly worrying about your waistline," answers Kelly, her redheaded friend. "Plus you're a singer, Mel. You know that cheese ain't good for you. "
I'm becoming more at ease with telling untruths and find that they just tumble out of my mouth these days without me even really thinking about them. I've never considered myself a vegetarian or an omnivore because I don't really think about food much, unless it's in front of me. Now that I'm actively thinking about it, however, I find the idea of consuming dead animal flesh rather distasteful.
In my backpack is a ten-ounce bottle of vanilla-flavored, vegan protein drink and a vacuum-sealed jar of bananas mashed with carrots. I wish I were back in my room, so I could eat since I am very hungry. Sister, however, has made me promise to try my very best to cultivate a social group while I am in England. This way, she says, I will have friends to look after me and she and Mother won't have to worry so much about me.
Earlier, the young women asked why I have large, black headphones hugging my neck. I told them it was a fashion choice and they laughed, thinking I was being clever. The truth is, the headphones are my security blanket. At any time, I can put them on and drown out the world with awesome music. Sister calls them my "binky." Today in my Shakespeare class, I think I might have gone into shock had I not had them to hold on to. I don't even necessarily have to have them over my ears; most of the time, just having them around my neck is enough.
Now XL is asking me to tell him more about myself, but I can't think of anything to impart. Would he want to know my favorite color or what I want to be when I grow up? He has gotten me a bottle of pale ale, which he opens in front of me. "No, thanks. I'm not of age. The drinking age for the people who come from my country is twenty-one."
XL looks at me as though he couldn't quite believe what he just heard. "Bollocks. Are you serious? D, you're no longer in the States. There isn't Big Brother watching over you to see if you follow the rules."
I shrug. I've survived this long because of rules and structure. I don't have the map that most humans follow that drive them to do one thing and then the next thing. "I prefer keeping my mind sharp, thank you. I do not drink alcohol."
"Jeeeezus," says a girl named Talvinder, a pretty East Indian girl who has been listening in on our conversation. "And I thought I grew up with strict disciplinarians as parents."
"You've never had a drop of alcohol? Like ever?" asks a handsome, dark-haired boy with horn-rimmed eyeglasses.
I turn to the guy that I was introduced to as Eggy. He was in my Shakespeare survey class and had read as the Clown for Twelfth Night earlier. He was decent. "Why is that so hard to believe?"
"Cripes, I don't know, drinking underage is just something kids do," Eggy says, looking lost. He glances at his laughing friends over his shoulder before again shifting his attention to me. "Are you telling me that you've never disobeyed the law? You've never littered or jay-walked?"
I frown at this ridiculous line of questioning. "Littering doesn't make any sense. Why would I trash my own ecosystem? And of course I only cross the street at designated areas. I obey traffic laws."
"Mate, this is mental," Eggy says to XL. "Just listen to the way she talks. Obviously she's some kind of robot thing that escaped an MI-6 lab or something. Or she's a Dalek in disguise."
The young women regard Eggy with an expression that I've come to recognize as part concern, part exasperation.
"Eggy, you're the one who's mental," Talvinder says with a sigh. "Believe it or not, there are actually some of us who were good, obedient kids."
Sarah puts her arm around Eggy's shoulders. "Mr. Eggerton, we weren't all lucky enough to have been born into Oxford families. A whole lot of us actually worked our arses off to get here and sometimes, that included not getting into trouble that daddy would have to come and fix."
"Bugger off, Sarah," Eggy says, though he allows the young woman to keep her arm around his shoulders. "I worked just as hard to get here. Okay, maybe not as rigorously as some of you may have, but—"
I am fascinated by this interplay. I was home-schooled till the tenth grade and even then I was sequestered in classes with highly intelligent students who were just as awkward and not nearly as talkative as I was. Sarah appears to be fond of Eggy, but she is also openly mocking his privileged background in front of me, a virtual stranger. "Why shouldn't he have used connections to get ahead? If he had an advantage over others, he would have been foolish to waste it."
Eggy beams at me. "Hey, Data, for a cybernetic being, you're aces in my book."
"I don't understand the reference."
"Haven't you ever watched Star Trek? Data is a member of the crew of Starship Enterprise and an android with ambitions of becoming more human someday," XL says with a bemused smile.
"How could he have ambitions if he were a machine? Ambitions require desire and artificial intelligence does not---"
"Whoooo is that?" says Talvinder in a way that catches all of our attention. "Ain't never seen him here before."
"Now there's a right propa toff, if I've ever seen one," remarks Melanie. "He's quite canny, him-like, in't he?"
"Watch out, Mel, your Geordie's peepin' out," says XL. "What kind of tosser comes to Alfie's dressed to the nines, outfitted like he came directly from Savile Row?"
I don't even have to look for myself. I already know who they're talking about. The moment he entered the pub, I felt him. There's no other way to describe it. My stomach suddenly clenched and my skin became too tight. What is this... acute awareness of him? My hands go up to my headphones to clasp the earcups.
"Oh, he's my Lit professor," says Eggy. "He's a bit of all right for a toff. Real high in the pants, though. During class, he showed Sorry Gary who's boss by chucking his stupid hat right into the rubbish bin."
"That's brill!" Kelly claps excitedly and nudges past me. "Give us a peek at this paragon. Where is he?"
"Poshy McPoshman over there." Talvinder lifts her arm and points out the booth where he is sitting by himself, reading a book. In front of him is a mug of dark ale.
At that same moment, he lifts his head and sees us all gawking at him like he's a new exhibit at the zoo. His gaze almost immediately zeroes in on me and my knees turn to rubber. Like an idiot, I raise my hand and wiggle my fingers at him. He nods at me before returning to his book.
To ease the parchness of my throat, I reach inside my backpack for my sealed bottle of water and take a long drink.
"Oi, Spock." Talvinder pokes my shoulder. "Do you fancy the fancy man? Is that why you're blushing? Look, you guys, she's blushing!"
"He's way out of your league, cookie," says Kelly with a chuckle. "He's James Bond and you're Hello Kitty. Or Rainman."
My face is burning like I have a fever. I stare at the label of my bottle of water, the words swimming before my eyes. I am not enjoying this feeling of infatuation, if that's what this is. It's utterly useless and a complete waste of energy.
Talvinder swats my arm lightly. "Don't be pouty, luv. We're just taking the piss. And look, he's got a girl wiv him."
"Hardly a girl," says Eggy. "Right proper fox, she is. All that red hair and those mile-long legs."
And sure enough, a female with long, red hair has joined him. She is dressed in a white and black skirt suit that looks tailored to fit her slender body. Dr. T. stands and clasps her arms before leaning forward to kiss both of her cheeks. At the sight of this, my stomach turns and my fists clench.
"Well, he ain't so very posh if he brought a date here, is he? He must be a cheap-o wanker since he invited his bird to a rubbish pub like Alfie's," Melanie says before laughing with Kelly.
"Oi, no, she's a lecturer here. I've seen her around. Social sciences, I think," XL tells us. "She's on the tenure track."
"Well, yeah, she looks the age," says Sarah. "What is she, twenty-five, twenty-six? And yet Dr. Posh Spice looks just slightly older than her, but is a full professor? Something's rotten in the state of Oxford."
"Nah. It's 'coz he got his first PhD when he was twenty and a second one two years later," Eggy informs us. "Gals, don't you know who that is?"
"Stephen Hawking's really hot younger brother?" Melanie asks dryly.
Eggy waves that off with an annoyed expression. "Bloody hell, I thought you'd be all caught up with the society pages of the Daily Mirror or the London Times or something."
Talvinder rolls her eyes. "Oh, Eggerton. Am I wearing a velour Adidas tracksuit and carrying a fake Prada bag right now? No. Stop dicking around."
Eggy smirks and says nothing until the other two girls threaten him with bodily harm. "His father is in the House of Lords."
"Hereditary?" demands Melanie with a squeak. "Oh, please, tell me he's a duke."
"Mel, there are only four dukes in HoL and they're all ugly," says Talvinder with a laugh. "How could any of them produce a specimen like that?"
Eggy pounds his fist on the table to get our attention back. "No, he's an earl. Not that it matters, anyway. Dr. T. is just the spare. His dad and older brother would have to die for him to get his mitts on the title."
"Wait," says XL. "Which earl?"
"RW. That piece you're drooling over is the second son of the Earl of RW."
XL scoffs. "I hate that Tory prick. I'd wager the son is a wanker of the first class order, too."
"Whoa," Kelly says, grabbing Eggy's arm. "The older brother used to date Julia Roberts. She was right bitter about the split, afterwards because she was looking to become a countess."
I have this unique ability to glean and retain information from conversations I hear even if I'm not really trying to listen. Dr. T. is the second son of the Earl of RW (currently a sitting peer in the House of Lords and a Tory prick), a bit of a prodigy (two PhDs by the time he was just slightly older than me), and his older brother used to date Julia Roberts, an American actress.
Oh and another thing: one should not ever be caught dead in a velour Adidas track suit while carrying a fake Prada purse.
"Hey, Hello Kitty, did I say he was out of your league?" says Kelly, leaning over the table to get closer to my face. "I meant he's from an entirely different universe."
Talvinder glares at her. "Stop being awful, Kelly. It's not funny anymore." She squeezes my shoulder and I hold my breath so I don't flinch. "Go for the gold, D. I believe in you."
I'm not really paying attention to either of them, though I'm hearing them both pretty well. I'm laser-focused on the couple in the booth just a few yards away from our table. I can read lips and the professor is on the side facing me so I could see his mouth movements even with the poor lighting of the pub.
This is a major invasion of privacy and I have never done anything like this... much. Sometimes Mother and Sister would argue in whispers about Mother treating me like a baby and I'd be across the room, wearing my gigantic headphones, and still know what they're talking about.
Dr. T. is telling Alice, the woman across the table from him, that while he has enjoyed the last six months they have spent together in close companionship, he isn't ready to advance their relationship. He tells her he is wrapped up in the book he's about to have published here and in the States and just simply cannot provide her with the attention she deserves. And then his mouth stops moving for a bit and he would occasionally shake his head from side to side. He listens quietly for a while and then slashes his hand through the air like a blade.
"That's enough, Alice," his mouth movements tell me.
No sooner than that, the woman slides out of the booth and stands next to the table, so that she was looming over him, hands on the sides of her hips. Her back is to me, so I'm unable to read her lips, but she is speaking loudly enough that we could almost hear her at our table.
"Bastard," she cries before she slaps him and runs out of the place with half of the pub watching.
"I didn't think people outside of Eastenders did that," says Kelly.
"What deserved a slap, then?" Talvinder asks no one in particular. "I bet he asked if he could stick it up her back passage. He looks the type."
"No," I say. Suddenly, it's extremely important for me to relay what really happened because I don't want them to think poorly of him. "She was upset because he ended their relationship. He is not ready to move forward with her."
"Bastard," Melanie pronounces. "I bet he led her on."
I survey the faces of the people I've just met today and find myself irritated. They don't even know him and yet are so ready to cast aspersions on his character.
The professor, for his part, picks up his mug of ale and takes a long drink. After patting his mouth dry with his own handkerchief, he picks up the book he was reading before the woman came and acts as though the last fifteen minutes didn't happen.
"Now there's a cold fish, he is," says XL.