Day one of classes has arrived, and Nicole is feeling less than badass.
Meeting other professors (including the adorable, wrong-office brunette), finding a coffeehouse and creating two syllabi were all fairly simple tasks. Stepping in front of her first non-badged or career investigator group is entirely different. To them, she is not well-known or renowned. Instead, she’s just another professor who likely followed the “those who cannot do, teach” mantra. How long will it take before some random not-quite adult asks her what she did to wash out and end up here, teaching to a roomful of maybes?
Her hands shake as she smooths the front of her starched dress shirt, and leans her weight back slightly against the desk. The uniform of black and white will be the hardest habit to break. Having the freedom to browse through her wardrobe like a normal person still feels wrong somehow. Eventually, she’ll add other color options to her wardrobe. Maybe she’ll buy something raspberry colored, or maroon. She’s always looked good in blue. It’s time to look less government-issued, and more relaxed, yet professional.
The doorknob turns and the door creaks open, revealing a group of eleven students. They wander inside loudly, looking at the board to ensure they’re in the correct place. Nicole keeps her face unreadable, quietly wondering if a group of students demands a special name, similar to a murder of crows or an unkindness of ravens. She watches carefully as each student takes a seat, analyzing and reading them like blueprints. They all exhibit something a little different- apprehension, disappointment, terror, excitement. Each one feels so differently about the same course.
Five minutes after the scheduled start time, Nicole presses her hands against the solid wood and pushes herself fully upright. She says nothing, allowing her gaze to slowly work its way around the room a final time before speaking. Slow movements and assured steps guide her vision as she scans, reads, inspects.
She speaks confidently, “How many of you chose this course because you wondered what Forensics has to do with Psychology or Sociology?”
The room is still. No raised hands, lifted gazes or uttered words. Nicole hides a frown beneath a piercing gaze.
“There are twenty-three of you in here. I can see you. You know that, right?”
Nervous laughter barely reaches Nicole’s ears. She hints at a sly grin before focusing on a student toward the back of the room. The boy simply can’t stop smirking.
“Alright, silence it is. Here’s the thing though- I don’t need any of you to say a word. Your faces told me everything I need to know. You told me exactly how you feel about this room, course, and me without even opening your mouth. The question I asked- you answered it faster than you can blink.”
The same smirking boy in the back lets a self-satisfied chuckle leave his lips. Target acquired.
“Good, a volunteer. Come down here, please.”
The boy stands, and swaggers to stand beside his professor. He’s slightly taller, and makes a point to puff out his chest. Nicole smiles inwardly. This will be fun.
“Class, meet Exhibit A. Now, Exhibit A here has a smirk he simply cannot contain. He made sure to make himself appear bigger and taller as he worked his way up here. He’s presenting dominance, strength and cunning to you all very clearly. What you didn’t see are the split-second flashes of raw emotion. Those unfiltered looks are something people in my line of work call micro-expressions. When I asked how many of you chose this course based on its title, he flashed something different than the rest of the class. As he thought about the real reason he chose this course, his pupils dilated and a wolfish smile appeared briefly at the corners of his lips. Exhibit A showed me arousal and desire.”
The boy instantly becomes flustered, beginning to splutter out excuse after excuse. He chose this course, because he wants to be a cop. He’s not attracted to some weird professor. Nope, no way. His cheeks flush, and his whole face shows his obvious surprise and need to protect himself from scrutiny and discovery. Checkmate. Nicole focuses her eyes on him, and all words cease.
“Now, what does that tell me about Exhibit A? It tells me he’s here, because he heard a rumor about a potentially hot, new lady professor. He was hoping for short skirts and tight dresses, and a chance to charm his way to an A. When I called on him to come forward, there was a second flash of emotion. The arousal he felt before converted into nervousness and fear. I have a feeling Exhibit A here chose this course without researching what we’ll be delving into, or looking into my background. The confidence he felt before turned to panic, once he realized this was not the low effort class he’d hoped for. Instead of a class he can sleep through, it’s a class that will challenge him. I’m a person who will challenge him, and all of you, every single day.”
Nicole’s eyes meet the boy’s again, her face still lacking expression. He gulps and looks pleadingly at his letterman jacket-covered seat.
“You were right to be scared when I called on you, Exhibit A. I do know exactly what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling. It’s written all over your face. Now, you may sit.”
Nicole returns her gaze to the front of the classroom, finally allowing an expression to cross her face- confidence.
“Forensic Psychology and Forensic Sociology work together in our justice system. They allow us to understand criminals, and teach law enforcement or beyond to build a criminal profile. With that profile and understanding, we can discover the who and why. The what, where, when and how are important. The who and why are vital, crucial. Without understanding who to look for, how their mind works and why they committed their crimes, we cannot find a criminal, let alone prosecute them.”
Nicole finally moves, her steps precise and calculated. She presses a little deeper into the soles of her one departure from the FBI dress code- blackout Converse sneakers. Her rehabilitated body adapts, and she focuses on transitioning from her left to her right foot smoothly. Her exterior is calm, collected and completely in control. She’s shown no weakness so far, and knows she can never allow this image of authority to evaporate.
“If you research me, you’ll find a common theme. I’m known to many as a human lie detector. Everything you’ve read, or will read, is true. I’m a deception expert, and a forensic criminologist. My job is to read people. Every eye and facial muscle movement, every millisecond long expression, every single thing that their face can tell me. You may be able to lie out loud, but you cannot tell your face to keep a secret. I have developed a natural talent into a well-honed skill you cannot bypass with trickery. I can see you, all of you, and I will read you like your mother reads a paperback at the beach.”
Several students shift awkwardly in their seats. They’ve realized playtime is over. The woman before them is serious. She already knows them.
“Now, if you’d like to learn how to be so valuable to law enforcement that departments and government officials will fight over you, stay in this class. You’ll learn from me. I’m not some washed up loser. If you’d prefer to coast through to graduation, see me after class and I’ll scan the course lists and professor photos with you. We’ll find someone.
Today was about reading you, and getting a feel for what this class will be like for all of us. Tomorrow, you receive your first case assignment. We’ll view photos as a class, and you’ll tell me who is a murderer and who is a bystander. Hopefully, you’re right. If you’re wrong, an innocent person goes to prison, or worse, is put to death for your assumptions. All of the evidence comes down to you reading an expression on someone’s face in less than a second. Be sure to pay attention.”
No words are spoken, no pens have scratched across paper, no keys have been pressed on keyboards. The students are motionless, unable to slide out from behind heavy desks and grab their bags as they chatter excitedly. The room stays silent.
Nicole makes eye contact with each student for a final time, before nodding slightly.
“You’re free to go, grab a syllabus by the door on your way out. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
She confidently opens the front classroom door, and steps into the busy hallway. Her gait is self-assured. Mission accomplished. The students stay in the room for an additional 45 seconds or so, before parading out together in stunned silence. Exhibit A can’t help but watch her walk down the long hallway, before turning the corner to enter her office.