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Short stories and composition.

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Armie remembers eighteen year old T. Chalamet from his Introduction to Composition course almost a decade ago. He remembers recovering acne, sweatpants at eight in the morning, and handwritten rough drafts he could barely read. He remembers T. Chalamet in group workshops, leaning back in his chair and seeming to not listen until he would clear his throat. Sit up straight and lean over the table while the person whose writing was in question would panic. Hold their breath, knowing full well T. Chalamet could diagram a sentence in his sleep and explain in great detail why you should use a stronger verb over an adverb, or just don't use one at all, and it scared them.

But, then T. Chalamet would say something incredibly kind, like, "I love the reaction we get from your dad when your grandpa mentions the baseball game, because baseball is such a tradition, you know? It's something that resonates with all of us, even if we don't play or like baseball. You get this feeling in your gut and you can smell grass, and you don't even have to talk about grass in your essay, but we smell it. So, I like that a lot." And then, the writer would be at ease and Timmy would critique, "But, I don't think we need to know about how your grandma didn't like going to baseball games, because it puts a bad taste in our mouths about grandma, and that isn't what this essay is about. What if," and he'd have suggestions for days.

Armie remembers that T. Chalamet.

Armie remembers office hours where T. Chalamet would come in, usually half asleep, to ask, "I know you're really busy, Professor Hammer," even though he knew damn well Armie was a teaching assistant, not a professor, but he was just stupid polite, "But would you mind reading over this short story when you get a chance? You can just skim it. Or read the first page." He remembers pretending like it was a burden, but pushing aside student papers the moment T. Chalamet left his office so he could read it. Mark it up. Live in whatever world this teenager created, because it was bound to make Armie feel something. Usually aching pain, but sometimes joy. Rarely joy, but sometimes.

He remembers how T. Chalamet would come to class early and beam when Armie would hand back the draft and kneel next to his desk to go over the story. How he'd blush.

Armie doesn't remember having favorite students, but he remembers T. Chalamet. Vividly.

That said, Armie is not prepared for T. Chalamet to walk into the library ten years later. He's not prepared for his wild, curly hair subdued by product and tucked behind his ears. Wearing dark brown corduroys with a green sweater. A grey canvas messenger bag slung across his body. He's not prepared, but he watches him walk across the library. Notices that he waves at a few students. Stops at one table and puts his hand on a girl's back (Armie notices that she doesn't flinch and she doesn't blush, like so many students do when professors touch them. She's not attracted to him--or she does a good job of hiding it--and she's not intimidated by him.) and picks up a book she has checked out. His face lights up and he crouches down next to her table, taps the cover and asks her a question.

Armie notices that T. Chalamet actually listens to her when she answers.

Armie looks back to his computer and quickly googles "T. Chalamet."

The first thing that pops up is an Amazon link to a flash fiction collection that has an award emblem embossed on the cover. It's called, and, by the way. Armie quickly adds it to his shopping cart.

He closes out of the window and pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose as his former student approaches the front desk. "Hey Alice," T. Chalamet says absently, not even looking down at Armie yet. He has his wallet in hand and is fiddling through cards. From his standing position, he towers above Armie and he has no option but to look up at him. Armie leans back in his chair. "I'm just checking on that book I requested last week, because," he starts to say. He finds his staff ID, looks up and a puzzled expression crosses his face. "You're not Ms. Knoll."

Armie shakes his head and laughs. "I am not. She retired." He takes T. Chalamet's card and quickly glances at the name. Timothee.

Armie remembers first day introductions. "Hey," Timothee had said from the back corner of the classroom. "I"m Timothee, but everyone calls me Timmy. Two truths and a lie. I have a cat named Elio, my favorite food is pistachios, and I spent my senior year studying abroad in Italy."

He didn't have a cat named Elio.

"But you," Timmy taps a long finger on the desk while Armie looks up holds for "Chalamet." It comes up with a long list of holds. "You still look familiar. Do we know one another?"

Armie scratches his short beard that is just starting to be invaded by silver grey hairs that match the intruders along his temples. "We did," he laughs. "You have a ton of holds, but none of them are in."

Timmy softly slaps the counter. "Well, shoot." He takes back his ID when Armie slides it back. Tucks it in his wallet and drops it into his back pocket. "What do you mean we did?"

They lock eyes and Armie stands up, smiling as Timmy has to raise his head to follow his gaze the taller Armie gets. Something clicks.

"Professor Hammer!" Timmy smiles and Armie has no warning; Timmy walks behind the desk and grabs his hand, pulls him into a hug. "You look so different with the beard. And glasses! Wow."

"I'm not a professor," Armie laughs. "And you're not eighteen, so you can call me Armie."

Timmy pulls back and smiles up at him. "I didn't want it to go to your head back then, but you were my favorite professor."

"Well, I was just a teaching assistant," Armie laughs.

"Yeah, well, I liked you better than any of my professors then."

I liked you better than anyone, Armie thinks. Shakes that memory away.

(Armie remembers eighteen year old T. Chalamet sitting a bit too close to him in his office. Scooting his chair closer so they could both look at a single copy of a handwritten draft. The sides of their knees touching and the smell of his shampoo and the lingering scent of alcohol on a Saturday morning. Remembers T. Chalamet staying after class to ask questions about the day's reading, which would eventually evolve into walking across campus together, Armie going a bit out of his way to walk him to his dorm. Remembers running into him in this very library one night, the day before finals. T. Chalamet's pencil tapping absently on the desk, his hair shielding his face as he studied a textbook. World History: Cultures, States, and Societies to 1500. Trying not to startle when he felt a tennis shoe press against his calf.

Armie remembers eighteen year old T. Chalamet coming to pick up his graded portfolio about twenty minutes after Armie sent an e-mail letting his former students know they were done. Remembers T. Chalamet pausing next to his desk, looking down at him. Biting his lip and saying, "I'm not your student anymore," like it was a promise, a threat, a request.

Armie remembers everything.)

"Well, let me know when that book comes in," Timmy says. "My phone number is on file, right?"

Armie nods and sits back down. "Which one? You have like twenty books on hold."

"You know what one," Timmy says and he walks away.

Armie skims the list of holds Timmy has and his eyes freeze on My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead.

He can see it on his bookshelf at home, cover taped on and loose pages tucked carefully between stories.

(Armie remembers the next semester, seeing T. Chalamet across the academic mall, at a coffee shop, in the cafeteria. Remembers wanting to take him up on his offer--if it was an offer--but never doing it. Armie remembers the regret.)

He looks up the office hours for Timothee Chalamet.

_____

When Armie gets home, he walks to the bookshelf in his bedroom and pulls out the worn collection. Puts it in his backpack by the door and makes dinner. Afterwards, he unpacks a few boxes and wishes he'd never left this town. But, he's back now and that's what matters.

____

He waits until Thursday.

It's a calculated wait because it's been ten years; he can wait two days. He can wait two days, knowing that Timmy doesn't teach on Fridays. He can wait.

(He doesn't have to buy the other book. It's on the library shelves and he spends all of Wednesday ignoring e-mails, ignoring returned books piling up, ignores everything while he pours over T. Chalamet's words.

At the end, he feels a sort of pride knowing that his student did that. His student wrote those words. His student earned that embossed emblem on the cover.

His former student.)

Armie hasn't been in the English department for a few years, but not much has changed. It smells like yellowing novels, coffee, and moth balls. There's laughter and open office doors and colleagues leaning against walls in the hallways, clutching coffee mugs and discussing Japanese literature. It feels like home, and he knows exactly where Timmy's office is.

He walks down the hall, nodding at a few people he knows. Stopping to talk to Professor Aciman and planning a coffee date for the following week. The whole time, the book burns in his hand, hangs at his side like a promise.

(And, yes, he got the book out every night and read every word again. Remembered how the class stared blankly at him, these eighteen year olds who didn't understand love and wouldn't for years. How everyone gave the answers that were on the page, except T. Chalamet, who asked the questions and found the answers between the words, the lines.)

He stops outside the office. Traces his thumb along the small plaque outside that reads "T. CHALAMET, PROFESSOR. SHORT FICTION AND COMPOSITION." Armie grins and knocks on the open door. "Professor?"

He steps in to an empty office that is very lived in. A book shelf spans the entire left wall and it is packed with novels, textbooks, portfolios. Stacks of paper. The desk is a mess of more papers, piles of books. A half full coffee cup and a laptop. A couch is along the right wall that Armie is pretty sure he sat on one time, back when it was his thesis director's office. And what are the chances, Armie thinks as he sits on the couch again, ten years later, of that?

He places the book in his lap and waits. He doesn't have to wait long to hear Timmy's voice coming down the hall. He's talking to a student about a revision, and his enthusiasm is still there. His kindness, his honesty. "Okay, so get me this draft by tomorrow morning and I can look it over and we'll see what that does for your grade, okay?" He's outside the door now and the student is huge. One of the football players; Armie recognizes him from the game last weekend. Timmy looks tiny next to him, but he pats the student on the shoulder and says, "Listen, your ideas are so good, okay? Grammar we can fix. Spelling we can fix. Sentence structure? We can fix it. But your ideas--like the part where you talk about the barn cat that just comes and goes? And how we immediately think of your friend moving away, coming back, moving away, coming back--that's brilliant. I can't teach people to come up with those ideas, that's all you. We'll get your grade up, okay? I'm really glad you came in today, Tony."

Tony nods and Armie can tell he's trying not to smile.

"Okay, now have a good weekend," Timmy says and turns into his office.

Stops.

"Hey, Professor." Armie sits up a bit straighter. "Your book came in." He holds the book out and Timmy takes a step forward. Gently pulls the book into his hands and then looks down at Armie. "I thought you would like it before the weekend."

Timmy's face breaks into a smile and he walks to his desk. Clears a spot and then sets the book down. "I have to walk by your old office every day, you know." He walks back to the door. Closes it. Looks back at Armie and raises his eyebrows like a question, like a plead, like a promise. Armie nods and Timmy locks the door. Turns around and presses his back against the wood. "And every single day, I wish I could show you a draft. Or borrow a book. Or just," he shrugs and pushes away from the door. There's a confidence that comes with a decade of experience, Armie supposes. Or maybe just a decade of desire, because Timmy closes the space between them quickly. Kneels in front of Armie and places his hands on his thighs. "Touch you. I wanted to touch you. Be touched by you."

(Armie remembers being delighted and nervous every time he was alone with T. Chalamet. At ease, but also frantic to get a word in, to get a word out, to keep the conversation going. But now, he's steady. Calm. They aren't going anywhere.)

"You were eighteen."

Timmy nods.

"And my student."

Timmy shrugs. He pushes his hands higher up on Armie's thighs.

"And so smart," Armie spread his legs a bit, making room for Timmy, who scoots closer. "You made me nervous."

Timmy leans down and presses a soft kiss, barely even a touch, to Armie's clothed crotch. "Do I make you nervous now?"

(Armie is not in the habit of hooking up. He likes the slow burn of a build up, he likes relationships, he likes learning someone's favorite movie before they fuck. But what doesn't he know about Timmy that wasn't revealed in writing? That wasn't revealed in the careful way he took and gave criticism? That wasn't revealed in the empty spot that was created when he didn't give in ten years ago?)

Armie shakes his head. "No." He reaches out and presses his thumb against Timmy's lower lip. "Not at all."

"Good," Timmy says, and starts to work on pulling Armie's pants down. Armie lifts his hips and helps push them past his knees, to his calves. He's already hard; he was probably hard the moment he walked into the department. Or maybe when he saw the disarray of the office. He doesn't remember; it doesn't matter because he's hard now and he can feel Timmy's breath on his cock. "It doesn't have to be more than this, okay? I'm not," Timmy looks up and suddenly, he's eighteen again. Big eyes and shy lips. "I'm not going to tell anyone or expect anything."

Armie slouches a bit, bringing his cock closer to Timmy's mouth. "We're going out for drinks tonight, okay? I want to know everything and talk to you about your book."

Timmy's mouth opens. Closes. "You read my book?"

"Every word."

And the eighteen year old is gone as Timmy bends, kisses the base of Armie's cock, then replaces his lips with his hand so he can take Armie in his mouth. Armie doesn't care that Timmy has clearly done this before. He's not going to sit and regret missing out on maybe being the first cock in Timmy's mouth all those years ago. Armie holds a hand to the side of Timmy's neck as he opens his mouth around Armie's cock. As he pulls back and swirls his tongue around the tip, sinks back down, deeper still. Can feel him swallow, the slight stutter of his throat.

"You were my favorite," Armie whispers and at that, Timmy moans and pulls back.

He looks up at Armie, jerking him off easily, quickly, like he knows exactly what Armie needs, what he's needed all this time. "I know," Timmy says and Armie is coming on his lips, his neck. His cardigan and the v-neck underneath.

"Shit, I'm sorry," Armie whispers and looks around for tissues; Timmy sits back and licks his lips. Wipes a hand across his neck and brings it to his lips. "I didn't think I would--"

Timmy grins. "I kinda thought you would," he says. "Now, I can't wait for drinks. Did you like my book?"

Armie laughs and grabs him by the collar. Pulls him in for a kiss.