"Hey, Taylor!" I heard a perky voice call out from behind me.
I turned to see Danielle Something running towards me.
"Hey Danielle," I said with an even tone, wanting to turn away from her and keep walking.
She caught up to me, completely out of breath, and tried to stable the hot cup of Starbucks in her left hand. She wore tall, leather boots and a puffy vest, jacket, thingy. She looked like every other white woman in Princeton, New Jersey this time of year.
The summer was a sweltering mess so when temperatures finally dropped and the leaves started their gorgeous display of oranges, yellows and reds, it was as if the entire campus exhaled, smiled and ran to the nearest Starbucks. I hated to admit that it was my favorite time of year as well. The thought alone reminded me of how insignificant human life could be, especially my own.
"Great game, last weekend," she continued.
"Thanks. Yeah, it was tough one but we managed to pull it off."
"Totally. I was never really into lacrosse until I came here and well, until I saw you play."
"I'm flattered," I lied.
"You're really great out there."
"I really appreciate that. Look, I hate to run off but I'm running a bit behind schedule..."
"God, I just love how you say that, 'Sshedule'. You Brits are so adorable."
"Right. Well, it was nice to see you Danielle," I said, having about all I could take and stepping away.
"Call me!" she screamed out, "Let's get coffee some time!"
I raised a hand in lying agreement and was on my way. I really was running late and didn't have time for asinine chit chat with the likes of her.
I originally planned on carrying out the family tradition of attending Cambridge but there comes a time in every man's life when he has to step out on his own. Besides, I wanted to see The States. North America and Antarctica were the only continents I'd never seen so I figured I'd study here opposed to with the penguins. I only had one year left at Princeton. After graduation, who knows, perhaps I'd visit the penguins. I was just fine with a four year lull in my love life. The Princeton demographic wasn't particularly my cup of tea.
Checking the address again, I realized I was almost there. I'd missed my first Scandinavian History class for this semester, resulting in an email from the professor asking me to see him in his office, his home office.
Only in America.
After twenty minutes of crisp, apple-scented air, I'd arrived. The building was old and grey. One of those Victorians that looked like the insides would surprise you with gorgeous renovations or would match its outside and look like complete rubbish. Stepping inside, I found the latter to be the case.
Professor Thompson lived right there on the first floor, second door on the left. My heart fluttered a bit. It'd been years since I felt like I was "in trouble". At twenty-one years old, I was wildly more responsible than my peers. I was here on a lacrosse scholarship, got straight As, held down a job at a bookstore and hated the taste of beer. As a star athlete with blonde hair, blue eyes, an extremely symmetrical face and a bright future ahead of me, I was used to praise and admiration. Suddenly, I felt like I was walking to my mother's room for a spanking after eating all of the biscuits or something.
I took a deep breath and shook away the thought.
My right fist grazed the good lightly and a voice said, "Come in."
The inside of the apartment matched the rest of the building unsurprisingly. The light bulb in the one visible lamp flickered every few seconds, providing minimal lighting for the small living area that seemed trapped by heavy, dusty drawn drapes. The floor was covered in books that spilled over from a bookshelf that adorned an entire wall.
Smack dab in the middle of the mess stood a young, black man who looked only a few years older than myself. He had broad shoulders and clothes that looked much too stylish to belong in this apartment that was better suited for a seventy year old writer who refused to interact with humans or the sun.
"Taylor?" he asked, looking up from a book.
"You're right on time. Please have a seat."
He smiled at me, revealing perfectly white, movie star teeth. Again, nothing about him physically matched his surroundings.
I looked around for a place to sit and came up short.
"I'm sorry. This place is a dump. I'm in research mode so it's hard to focus on anything else."
"Like cleaning," I stated hastily, stupidly.
He laughed, thank God.
"Yes, like cleaning."
"Professor Thompson, can I start by saying I'm truly sorry I missed the first session. Your class is the same time as lacrosse practice and I'm having a bit of trouble working out the schedule."
"Yes, you're quite the star on the field, I hear. Here, sit down."
He moved a stack of books from a chair in front of an old desk and motioned for me to sit. Probably noticing just how dark it was in the room, I could barely see him, he walked over to the window and pulled back the drapes.
"Oh my, what a gorgeous day," he said, "Guess we don't need this."
To the relief of my eyes, he shut off the flickering light, letting the sun do the real work instead. Professor Thompson sat in a larger chair on the other side of the desk, sitting a bit taller than I.
I took another deep breath.
"So, there's a problem with your schedule?"
"Yes, it's just, um, practice. I have practice at the same time as your class."
"Then why sign up for the class?"
"It was the only history credit available at the time I registered and I was hoping, well, I was hoping..."
"You were hoping you could get by with watching the lectures online and just reading the assigned texts."
Shit. He saw right through me.
"That's exactly why I asked you to come see me today, Taylor. Not many of my students fight for a seat in Scandinavian History so I usually end up with the ones that registered late once all the quote on quote fun classes are full. But Scandinavian History is enthralling! And challenging! It's not a course you can just sleep on. I know what you're thinking."
"Sure. You're looking at me like I'm nuts. So did the rest of the class when I gave them this speech during lecture, the lecture that you missed."
My eyes lowered.
"But let me tell you, Scandinavian history is full of blood, sweat, tears and guts flying everywhere. You don't want to miss out."
His passion was almost comical. No one in their right mind could be this engrossed in the history of Scandinavia. He was endearing to watch though and I found my tense shoulders relaxing a bit.
"Professor Thompson, may I ask you something?"
"Please, call me Chris."
Only in America.
"Alright, Chris. How exactly did you get involved in this field?"
"Are you asking me that because I'm black?"
"What? No, of course not. I would never..."
"Relax," he said with a smile, "I'm just messing with you."
"Oh, alright," I replied.
"Like most humans with open hearts walking this Earth, I made a choice because of love. It was only a few years ago that I was sitting right where you are. I was twenty years old, almost done with under grad, looking forward to law school. Then, I fell in love."
"With a Scandinavian."
"Well, that's just absurd," I said, again, hastily, stupidly.
"Taylor, you're absolutely correct," he said with a laugh. I joined him with a chuckle.
"I fell in love with a Scandinavian who was studying the history of his country. I switched majors so I could take classes with him and never thought about becoming a lawyer again. Things didn't work out, or course, but luckily for me I also fell in love with the material, the research, the history. So to answer your question, that's how a thirty-five year old black man ends up as a professor of Scandinavian history.
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude or anything but did you say you switched majors so you could take classes with HIM?"
"Yes, I did."
"Yes, I am."
"I'm sorry. That's not something I should discuss with a student but you'd be surprised how often I get that 'So, how exactly did you end up here?' question."
"It's fine. I don't mind and I apologize for prying."
"Not a problem, Taylor. I apologize if I made you uncomfortable."
"Not at all," I lied.
Yes, I was a grown man. Yes, I was living in a liberal city in a mostly liberal country but no, no I hadn't come to terms with my sexuality. I hadn't told anyone, friends or family or the sea of uniformed white women, that I was gay.
And now, here I was, too afraid to admit that I was sitting across from the most beautiful man I'd ever laid eyes on, listening to him tell a story of falling in love with a man that most likely looked like me. Uncomfortable didn't begin to describe the feeling.