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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Hmph! (03/04/10)

TITLE: Everything You Left Behind
By Carol Slider
03/10/10


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He didn’t want to talk to Laurel Tiernan. If he hadn’t despised hyperbole so much, he might have said she was the last person in the world he wanted to see.

But there she was, sitting at his favorite corner table of the café where he had breakfasted almost every morning for the past 35 years. And before he could back out the doorway, she waved and called,

“Professor Jacobs! Good morning!”

Hmph. Good morning, is it? Maybe for her.

And what was she doing here at seven-thirty, anyway? He had always been at the university before seven to prepare class notes and do last last-minute grading.

Jacobs walked unwillingly toward Laurel's table, ignoring the other regulars who called out greetings. Wasn’t it enough that she’d taken his job? Did she have to invade his morning sanctuary, too?

Oh, he couldn’t blame her personally. Blame it on the administration, who’d been eager to replace a high-salaried, fully tenured professor with a new graduate who’d work for half as much. They couldn’t force him to retire—but they could hint, suggest, advise.

“You’re sixty-five,” the department chair had said patronizingly, as if Jacobs didn’t remember his own age. “There must be things you’d like to do, places you’d like to visit. You’ve earned it.”

So he’d tendered his resignation and endured the obligatory, embarrassing retirement party. Goodbye, Professor Emeritus Jacobs. Hello, Laurel Tiernan with her two-year-old doctorate.

No, he didn’t blame her. But he didn’t have to be nice to her.

She smiled as he approached, showing off gleaming white teeth. At least, he thought grudgingly, she wasn’t one of those sour feminist types; really, she was an attractive young woman. The campus males probably gravitated to her classes just because of her red hair, green eyes, and well-proportioned figure. He would have.

“Do you have time to join me?” she asked, and he opened his mouth to refuse. But too late—Marge was already on her way with a pot of coffee and a caramel pecan roll.

He pulled out the old wooden chair opposite Laurel’s and sat down. They sipped coffee in silence for a minute or two. Then Laurel said,

“I wonder... could I ask you something?”

Jacobs grunted.

“My office...”

You mean my office... Jacobs looked down at the table.

“The east wall seems... a little... damp...”

Jacobs laughed once—a short sharp bark of a laugh.

“Damp, all right. Pipes run behind it. Better not put your books there... they’ll grow fur.”

“Thanks. And...” She hesitated. “The vent above my desk... I’ve called maintenance... but it still blows cold air...”

“Forget calling maintenance. Useless. Just close the vent and wear a sweater.”

“Okay,” said Laurel ruefully. “And that desk chair... It creaks, and the padding’s so worn, I can almost feel the springs...”

“Oh, the chair.” Jacobs’ lip curled. “Took me 20 years to get a new one. It’s about 15 years old now. With any luck, they'll give you another one before you get tenure. Maybe.”

“I won't expect one any time soon, then.”

They sat in silence again, and Jacobs watched her enigmatic face. Hard to tell how she felt. Concerned? Worried? Resigned? And did he actually feel sorry for her?

Well, maybe.

Just a little.

Laurel checked her watch. “I’ve got to get to campus. Thanks so much for chatting.”

Jacobs nodded, and watched her go.

Hmph, he thought. Drafty, moldy old office... She can have it, and welcome to it...

There was a certain satisfaction in knowing he could sit here as long as he liked, and go home to a cozy armchair by a warm fire...


Outside the café, Laurel paused. She stood just beyond the frame of the big picture window and peered around it until she could see Professor Jacobs at the table in the corner. Was she imagining it, or did he look a little more relaxed than he had when he’d walked in? And was that a hint of a smile just creasing the corners of his mouth?

Anyway, she’d consider phase one a success. The next time they met—quite by accident, of course—she planned to remind Professor Jacobs about perpetually tardy students who slept in the back row and turned in plagiarized papers.

It would take a lot of effort, no doubt about that... but one day, perhaps, they just might be friends.


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This article has been read 953 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 03/13/10
This flowed wonderfully. I held onto every word. I really liked the ending. Nice message, one that many of us need to hear.
Jackie Wilson03/13/10
A smart woman with an agenda! I kinda like that!
Very enjoyable read!
Lyn Churchyard03/14/10
Loved it!!!
Gregory Kane03/15/10
A sensational climax. You fooled me completely. Loved it!
Marita Thelander 03/15/10
Ah...smart woman. I like the fact that she reached out to him in this sneaky way actually longing to be his friend. A lot can be learned when the younger ones admire AND respect their predecessors. Good job.
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/16/10
Your cleverly written story brings the old and young to life so well that the reader gets to peer through the window at their meeting.
Sarah Elisabeth 03/16/10
Awww, what a clever and sweet gal.
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/18/10
Congratulations on being #1!
Beth LaBuff 03/18/10
Love your creativity with the topic, Carol. Super congrats on your double-placing..1st in Masters/1st place Editor's Choice!
Mona Purvis03/18/10
As smooth as silk...or the coffee in the story. truly well written and sweet.

Mona
william price03/18/10
Congratulations! I wasn't able to read very many before. I'm sorry I missed this one. Very sincere with an easy pace to allow the reader to enjoy each element and word picture. God bless.
Jackie Wilson03/18/10
Congrats on your well-deserved win!
Eliza Evans 03/18/10
What a wonderful, seamless piece of writing. Love it! HUGE CONGRATS, Carol.
Patricia Turner03/18/10
Wonderful flow - wonderful message and ending. Very creative too. Congratulations on 1st place and EC!
Rachel Rudd03/18/10
You so captured the essence of humph! Wonderful piece...congratulations on your well deserved win! :)
Catrina Bradley 03/18/10
This Laurel's got it going on. I LOVE the twisty ending, and your characters spring to life. Congrats, Carol - awesomely written story!
Ruth Thoutenhoofd03/18/10
I loved this. You certainly deserved the placement. Congratulations!
Laury Hubrich 03/18/10
This made me smile. Congratulations. I love this entry. :)
Ruth Stromquist03/19/10
Excellent surprise ending. A well deserved first place!
Connie Dixon03/19/10
The woman was not only good looking - she was definitely wise beyond her paycheck. Great story! Congratulations!
Site Editor 03/20/10
Test
Joan Campbell03/21/10
Congrats Carol. I loved the characters you created here, the title and the entire flow of the story. Beautiful!