Professor Lana Bentley leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. Her gaze rolled over the eighteen-year-old woman, sitting ramrod straight before her. She practically glowed with her brightest smile. “So, Irma, are you excited about your first year of college?”
Irma slumped forward, her hands clasping and unclasping convulsively, like sea creatures swishing through the deep. Her grey eyes peered through thick glasses and heavy makeup, imploring the fountain of wisdom behind the desk. “I don’t know. I think I am. I mean, I’ve been looking forward to this my whole life. Always wanted to go to college, ever since I first learned there was such a thing.”
A twinge of alarm spread through Professor Bentley. “How old would that have been?”
“Four…maybe five.” Irma met Professor Bentley’s gaze. “My dad’s a janitor, and he got a job at a university. He took us to see where he worked. And—” Irma blushed. “It was love at first sight.”
Heat crept up Professor Bentley’s face. “Well, that’s the best of news.” She beamed again. She felt proud of her ability to put others at ease. Beaming was one of her specialties.
Irma frowned; her hands squeezed so tight her knuckles turned white.
Professor Bentley considered the girl’s hands. “But it appears that you’re still a little anxious. Is there something bothering you? Worried about your classes or—?”
Irma swallowed a gulp of air, a drowning victim at the end of her strength. “It’s just that I’m so afraid.”
Sitting up straight, Professor Bentley tapped her computer keyboard and pulled up Irma’s file. After scanning the record, she glanced at the girl before her. “Your grades and scores are excellent. You’ve already won awards in your chosen field of study, and your recommendations are brilliant.” She pursed her lips and tapped her fingers together, a serious professional doing her duty. “You have nothing to be afraid of. You’ll do fine.”
Irma shot from her chair and twirled around behind, gripping the back for dear life. “I’m not afraid of the work. I know I can get good grades.”
Professor Bentley snatched a glance at her watch. She stood and stepped away from her desk. “I have a class in fifteen minutes but walk with me across campus. She swung a satchel over her shoulder. “I really want to help—I’m just—”
Irma opened the door and let the professor pass through. Once outside crossing over the long shadows of an August afternoon, the student tromped alongside her mentor, her shoulders drooping and her hair hanging like a curtain across her face.
A young man jogged by and waved.
Irma averted her eyes.
Professor Bentley smiled, stopped, and laid a gentle hand on Irma’s shoulder. “You’re worried about making friends…men friends even?”
Irma’s eyes flickered to the sky. “Yes…and no. I make friends easy enough. Everyone likes the shy, smart girl who shares her notes.”
Professor Bentley choked, her eyes widening. She started forward again, her heels clicking on the tidy cement walkway. Autumn leaves whirled in a sudden breeze.
Quickening her pace, Irma kept up. “It’s just that I’ve dreamed about this for so long, it’s like the best fantasy ever…and I don’t want it to end.”
Stopping before the science building, Professor Bentley felt a chill run through her veins. “But, Irma, reality is better than fantasy.”
Irma shoved her glasses up the bridge of her nose and peered into the eyes of wisdom. “Is it?”
Professor Bentley blinked at the tears starting in her eyes. “Oh, my dear. You just told me the saddest story I ever heard—in two words.”
That evening as Lana sat ensconced in the crook of her husband’s arm, she laid her head on his chest and sighed.
George pulled off his glasses and laid them on the coffee table. “You want to tell me?” He titled his head and peered at her lifted gaze.
Lana shook her head, her gaze dropping. “I met a new student today, a friendly mentoring session. You know.”
“You’ve done hundreds. Best there is.” A smile quirked at the corner of his mouth, his eyes sparkling.
“I always thought so. But today—I was the one mentored. The student taught the teacher.”
“What on earth could an eighteen-year-old freshman teach you?”
Lana slapped her forehead and tugged her fingers through her hair. “What it feels like to be eighteen—a dreamer with nothing but dreams to hang on to.”
George shrugged. “You’ve handled that before.”
“Yes, and I always challenged it. I always knew best. I—” She pulled away and sat up, her hands clasping in an attitude of prayer. “I just realized—I don’t remember what it’s like to be a freshman, to be young, to be scared, to be idealistic.” She swallowed and met her husband’s frank stare. “From the first moment I saw her, I had this girl pegged from her thick glasses down to her skinny jeans. But, really, I have no idea what she dreams of. And if perhaps her dreams are better than the reality I’m offering.”
George shifted to the edge of the couch, positioned for a launch. He glanced at the kitchen counter with an array of drinks lined in neat order. “Dreams die in the light of day.”
“But somewhere, somehow, isn’t their room for both—a dream to guide and reality to rule?”
Standing, George peered down at his wife, a frown forming between his eyes. “Dreams don’t pay bills. You’ve told me that a million times.”
Lana stood and sauntered to the bay window. She stared at the black frame, peering into darkness. “That’s true. But when Irma told me she was afraid of reality, she scared me and made me sad.” She turned and peered at her husband, her own eyes imploring.
George sauntered toward the kitchen. “You don’t kill these kids’ dreams. Reality does.”
“Perhaps that’s why I feel so bad. I’ve known that all along.” Lana turned and faced her husband’s departing figure. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “When I dismissed her dreams, I dismissed the girl…and perhaps…a reality that might have been.”
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
“There are many excellent stories in this collection.” ~Steven R. McEvoy
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