Teaching math at the university was definitely not in my original plan but when my Ph.D. candidacy fell through, I needed a way to make money in addition to tutoring math students in the Math Learning Center. Lucky for me, a few classes had opened up and I was hired to teach them.
This was the first time nearly any circumstance in my life could be referred to as “lucky” and I was glad I’d be able to pay my bills while I decided what to do next. Despite my gratefulness, I felt a steady mixture of self-doubt and fear though this was not a new combination for me.
Around mile two, I turn a corner and notice a group of young, well-dressed men standing in the driveway of a fraternity. As one of them spots me, he taps another with the back of his hand and gestures in my direction.
I attempt to steady my breathing and facial expressions to hide the terror gripping my chest. I briefly consider crossing to avoid any potential interaction with them but instead simply steer myself into the street to avoid running through the group.
I put my head down.
It'll be over in a few seconds. Just stay calm.
“Excuse me,” I mumble.
Suddenly, a hand closes tightly on my wrist and pulls me off balance.
“Where’s the fire sweet thing? I’ll save you,” one of the men says. I hear a few chuckles from the others.
My chest ices over with panic. I yank my wrist free but I’m thrown off balance and begin to fall towards the concrete. Hands slide around my waist which instantly sets my internal alert system off. Before I know what I’m doing, I turn around and quickly thrust my hand upwards into the stranger’s nose resulting in a slight crunch.
“Ahhh, what the fuck you bitch!”
I can't even see his face as he covers it with both his hands. His eyebrows are twisted together in anger and pain, I know there's blood collecting in those hands and I don't wait around to see it. I sprint away as fast as my legs will take me, leaving laughter and loud voices safely behind me.
Feeling shaky and straight-up terrified, I cut my run short and immediately go back to my apartment. Once inside, I slump against the triple-locked door and cry into my hands.
This is going to be a long day.
“Hey babe, you okay?” Gabby, my closest friend approaches me and shoves a coffee into my hand.
“Oh Gabby, thank you, you’re a goddess,” I sigh while taking a sip of the coffee she gave me. "I am not having the best start to the morning and I was already insanely nervous to begin with.”
“What happened?” She asks, her dark eyebrows knit together in confusion and concern.
I explain how I broke a stranger’s nose on my morning run just for grabbing my wrist. I feel my face heat up in embarrassment.
“Oh my god Cara, I’m so sorry! Are you okay?” Gabby starts looking me over for injuries as if I've just been shot or stabbed.
“I’m totally fine, embarrassed actually. I can’t believe I reacted that way. I mean, I CAN but I wish I hadn’t,” I drop my head in shame and look at our shoes.
“What are you talking about?” Gabby's brown eyes narrow at mine. “That guy had the nerve to grab you without your permission, that’s grounds for self-defense if you ask me. If my brother were there, he would’ve beat that dude’s ass.”
“I just hope I don’t run into them again,” I say quietly while looking around at all the faces swarming the courtyard of the university. I instantly look for blood and then think about how stupid that is as he would've cleaned up before coming.
Get it together Cara.
“Something tells me a bunch of dudes who think sexually harassing a stranger is funny aren’t the Business Calculus type,” she laughs as I gulp for the 17th time that morning.
I take a deep breath and try to change the subject.
“So what’s your schedule like today?”
She takes a sip of her own coffee before responding.
"No classes for me today, mine start tomorrow. I'm just coming in to finish up my syllabi and to see if I can scrounge up some tutoring students so I can pay my hiked up rent. Did I tell you they raised it again?!"
I nod and she scoffs like it's the most ridiculous thing for landlords to up the rent in a historic, college town.
"Oh and my brother starts school today! I can't wait for you to meet him!" Gabby exclaims.
Her brother Elias is starting at the university today. He is a freshman undergrad even though he is 21-years-old because he took a few years off to help on their uncle's farm in Mexico.
Gabby talks about Elias constantly and I can tell they're close. I'm excited to meet him.
After we say goodbye, I make my way to the little gray cubicle with my name on it in the Math Learning Center while Gabby heads across the breezeway to the Science Learning Center.
I'm only teaching two classes this term in addition to tutoring in the MLC which I've done for the last few years. I started tutoring as a way to make extra money but when my math Ph.D. fell through, it became a full-time gig.
Then at the end of last term, I learned a few classes in the math program needed new instructors including Business Calculus which was kind of my thing. I reluctantly applied to A). pay my own hiked up rent and B). stay involved with the math program while I figured out what I really wanted to do.
I looked at my watch, I had about an hour before my first class started. I got to work putting the finishing touches on my materials.
"Good morning Cara," a slippery voice reaches my ears.
I look up to see Paul, one of my least favorite people in the MLC. Paul was technically my superior and he loved to remind me of that fact as often as possible. I also felt like he was constantly undressing me with his eyes even though I had nothing to prove this other than the creepy feeling settling in my stomach whenever his eyes were on me.
"Good morning Paul, how are you?" I give him the smallest, polite smile I can muster and turn my attention back to my laptop.
"I'm fine, looking forward to making some kids cry this term," he laughed at his own joke as he leaned against the cubicle wall. I continued tapping away on the keyboard.
"How are you? Nervous about teaching?" His voice was purring with confidence but I could also sense desperation and longing. I tried not to shudder.
"Of course not," it was a complete lie but I wanted him to leave me along and stop offering to "help."
"Well, when you need help, you can always come to me," Paul says. "I've taught those classes before."
I finally will my eyes to look up at Paul just in time to see him give me a wink and saunter off. I suppress the urge to vomit in my mouth.
An hour later, I was bustling into my class with my papers, books, and bags. I was so nervous my throat felt completely dry and I second-guessed my outfit for the 100th time since I picked it out last night.
As the clock on my laptop officially changes to 9:00am, I stand up, smooth out my gray pencil skirt, and clear my throat. Students continue to chatter away so I clear my throat a little louder. The 40 or so students still talk in loud, animated voices.
"Excuse me?" I say quieter than I mean to.
A few students look my way but the noise still seems to carry on.
Suddenly a student near the door speaks up.
"Yo, listen up!"
The room goes quiet.
I feel my neck and ears heat up and pray my face doesn't turn beet red.
"Um, right, okay, thank you," I stutter. "My name is Ms. Thompson and this is, um, Business Calculus."
I stumble through the class but feel I made it through relatively unscathed. We even completed a full problem before it was time to go. I give them all their assignment info, mention my office and tutoring hours and release them.
I make my way back to the MLC and practically melt into my chair in my cubicle. I did it. It's over. Now to do that 20 more times... I begin scanning and answering my emails, and post the assignment info to the class digital blackboard. Before I know it, it is 11:45 am and time to meet Gabby for lunch. I weave through the throngs of students in the breezeway, careful not to touch or run into anyone though they don't afford me the same attention. Upon approaching her cubicle, I hear snippets of a conversation.
"...well Cara is brilliant with calculus so I'm sure she can help you if you have issues."
I round the corner so I can see who Gabby is talking to. It was a young man with broad shoulders and a backwards hat on. He was a little taller than me but still made me feel small.
"Here she is! Cara, this is my brother, Elias!"
He turns to face me and I have to stop my jaw from dropping. He has a warm, friendly smile, full lips and hazel eyes. In other words, freaking gorgeous. Tattoos poke out from the neck and sleeves of his t-shirt and I can tell he has defined muscles under his casual clothes.
His eyes widen slightly when he locks eyes with me.
He was the student in my first class who told everyone to be quiet.
"H-hi Elias, it's nice to, uh, finally meet you."
I awkwardly stick my hand out.
He seems amused as he looks at my hand. He takes it casually, wrapping his warm fingers around my small hand. I can feel the calluses on his palm.
"It's nice to meet you again...Cara," his grip lingers a bit longer before gently dropping my hand.
Gabby raises an eyebrow.
"You met already?"
"I just came from her class," Elias says, his eyes still locked on mine. His voice is quiet and raspy, yet confident.
"Oh that's awesome! It was her first class ever and she's amazing with calculus. You're in good hands Elias," Gabby replies as she gently clasps her hands together in excitement.
Elias still has not removed his hazel eyes from my face and I'm feeling heat move up my neck again. A small smirk shows up on his face.
"Is that so?" It sounds more like a statement than a question.
"Erm, I guess? I work in the MLC next door if you need help," I try to sound confident but have no idea if I'm succeeding. I point to the MLC and consider giving directions just to say something with structure and assurance then convince myself to just shut up.
"That's good to know," Elias says smoothly, tilting his head slightly as his eyes roam my face. His smirk is still tugging at his lips when Gabby starts talking again.
"We're going to lunch Elias, do you want to join us?"
"Nah, I'm meeting Nate and then I've got another class. I'll see you at Mom's for dinner."
Gabby stands up and hugs her brother, Elias kisses her cheek and turns back to me.
"Goodbye Cara, it was nice to meet you," he gives me a beautiful smile and walks away.