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Lessons in Romantics

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He glanced up at the clock on the wall for a moment before shutting his book. He looked up at all the students in his lecture. For someone who was only a few years out of school himself, it was hard for Eggsy to wrap his head around the fact that he was in charge of teaching literally hundreds of students. A full class of one hundred twenty college kids was sitting in front of him, and that was just one of his classes. They were trusting him with a part of what would predict their future, and there he was in front of the class, with a vest on over a loosely knotted tie and a white button-down with his jeans and Adidas sneakers. He figured it was a wonder they took him seriously. But maybe that’s why it worked.

“Alright,” he smiled, “I’ll let you go a few minutes early taday. ‘Ave the nex’ four chapters done for next class. Enjoy the weekend.”

There was the iconic noise of backpacks being zipped and coats being put on as students started talking to each other and making their way out of the classroom. The university lecture halls hadn’t been updated since they were built, so the students had to walk down the stairs that ran up the center of the seating area, and pass the podium and table by Eggsy, in order to get out of the room. And Eggsy, as someone who was still, and probably would always be, in awe of the fact that these kids actually wanted to listen to him, would sit and wait until every student had left, just in case one of them had a question or comment they didn’t want to make during class, or if they couldn’t make it to his office hours.

He sat on the table, flipping lazily through the chapters they would be discussing the following Monday, when he heard someone clear their throat. He looked up and saw a young girl standing there, books hugged tight to her chest. She never really spoke up during discussions, but he remembered reading her papers; she was an incredibly smart young lady.

“Professor Unwin,” she looked somewhat nervously around the room, “Can I ask you something?”

He still wasn’t used to people addressing him as Professor Unwin, or even just Professor, for that matter. He gave a charming smile, “Marissa, please, you don’t have to call me Professor. Jus’ call me Gary, yea?” he set his book on the surface of the table, resting his hands in his lap, “But of course, I’ll always answer your questions as best I can.”

“I know the analysis paper is due next Friday by midnight, and I’ve been trying to get it done but there’s just a lot going on at home right now and I just don’t see myself having the eight pages done, especially if we’re still going to be continuing discussion on Monday. Because I use my class notes in my papers and all and I just-”

He held his hand up to make her pause. He kept a soft expression on his face as he stood up, “Do you ‘ave another class right now?”

She shook her head, “No, I’ve got a free block right now.”

“Care to walk and talk?”

She nodded but didn’t verbally respond. Eggsy calmly packed his books and made his way to the door, holding it open for her. As he shut it behind them, she spoke up, “I completely understand if you can’t allot me any more time. I know that in the syllabus you make it fairly clear that you’re not much for late assignments but I was just hoping, you know…”

The two of them walked down the hallway, subconsciously falling in stride with each other. Eggsy glanced at her for a moment, “Marissa, how ‘bout we make a deal, yea? Trust me, I know all about home life getting out of hand and gettin’ in the way of, well, lit’rally everything else,” he laughed, “So at the end of the day on Wednesday, email me and let me know where you are, how you’re feeling about having the paper done. An’ if things aren’t going your way, I’ll give you till the end of the day Monday to send it to me. That way you’ll have the whole weekend. Sound fair?”

The relief was written clear as day all over her face. She nodded enthusiastically, “Oh that’s wonderful. Thank you, Professor, so much. I, just, thank you. Things have just been so out of hand.”

He nodded as they walked through the courtyard to the English Department Building. “No need ta thank me,” he stopped before they walked into the building, “Is everything alright? Do you wanna talk?” When she didn’t respond, he offered a sympathetic smile, “You don’t haveta, obviously. But my office door is always open, yea?”

Her smile was weak but sincere. She appreciated the apparent concern he had for his students. That was half the reason everyone liked taking his classes. Plus, who doesn’t love a laid-back professor who was that much fun to look at? She shook her head, “I appreciate it, Professor, but I’ll be alright. Things should calm down soon.”

He nodded, not wanting to push the subject, “Well, I’ll see you Monday then, yea? ‘Ave a good weekend. Stay safe.”

“I will. Until Monday, Professor,” she smiled meekly and quickly went off and away.

Eggsy took a deep breath before pulling open the door to the building. He silently made his way up the stairs and down the hall to his office. He loved being a professor because he loved teaching students. His favorite teachers and professors growing up were always part of the English department, and that was most of what inspired him to become an English professor himself; he wanted to leave a positive mark on kids’ lives.

What he didn’t enjoy, though, was the snobbery and politics that were rampant at the university. If the students weren’t so kind and dedicated, and the pay wasn’t as good as it was, he would’ve been gone after his first year there. As it was, though, he loved the students and what he was able to do with his classes, so he stuck it out. He dealt with the condescending looks in the department hallways, and the backhanded compliments at department meetings and open houses. He’d heard much worse, after all, from people who mattered much more than his colleagues who he only saw at length a few times a semester.

He walked into his office and set his bag on his desk. He didn’t keep all that much in his office. He had a few bookshelves, and his desk had a laptop and pictures of his baby sister, but other than that it was a pretty bare space. He hoped to change that as time went on and he built more of a life. Although more and more often he was contemplating having an office on a different campus. He pulled the book for discussion out and tucked his backpack underneath his desk. He began jotting down notes and discussion points for Monday.

There was a knock on his door, and without looking up he invited whoever it was to come in and take a seat. He assumed it was one of his students, but when he looked up he saw that it was another professor. Dr. King taught several high-level courses on Shakespeare and the composition of classic literature. He also happened to be the most consistent with condescending murmurs concerning Eggsy and everything about the young man’s ability to teach.

“Dr. King,” he closed his book, “what c’n I do for you?”

He made no attempt to hide his disgust at Eggsy’s accent, his habit of dropping letters. They’re there for a reason. He took a quick breath, “There’s going to be a department conference next Thursday. Not mandatory, however, so if you can’t make it, it won’t be the end of the world."

Eggsy loosened his tie a bit more and pulled it off over his head, undoing the top two buttons of his shirt with a shrug and a smug smile, “Wouldn’t miss it fer the world, bruv. Thanks for the head’s up.”

“Certainly,” he gave a curt nod and excused himself.

Eggsy leaned back in his chair, running his hands back through his hair. It was easy enough to feign confidence and bother his colleagues purposefully, but he wished that he didn’t have to. He pulled his glasses off and tossed them onto his desk. “Fuck me,” he mumbled under his breath.

“Professor Unwin,” there was a knock at the door, and Eggsy looked up to see the head of the English Department standing in his doorway.

“Dr. Hart,” he felt himself struggling for words, suddenly wishing that he hadn’t impulsively removed his tie and made himself look as fed up as he felt, “Is there somethin’ I c’n help you with?”

“I wanted to ask a favor of you, regarding the conference next week.”

He nodded, “What d’you need?”

“Do you think you could be a speaker?”

Confusion flashed across his face, “Me?”

He nodded, “Yes. After reviewing the department evaluations from the end of last semester, it was quite apparent that you’re a favorite among students, and based on their grades you’re clearly an effective professor. I think it’d be good for you, and the department, if you shared a few pearls of youthful wisdom,” his smile was kind, “If you wouldn’t mind.”

With every passing second Eggsy was feeling more and more out of his depth. He was floored that the head of the English Department even noticed him, let alone thought he stood out in any kind of positive way. Eggsy reached and put his glasses back on, “Um, sure? Dr. Hart, I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve got no problem speakin’ but I’m willin’ ta bet none of the other professors are gonna wanna listen ta me.”

He looked genuinely perplexed, “What makes you say that?”

Eggsy cocked an eyebrow, “You tellin’ me they never came to you complainin’ about me?”

“They complain about everything,” he shrugged, “It all sounds the same once you’ve had my job for a while. What have they been saying?”

“Ask Dr. King,” he knew it wasn’t professional to spill names, but it also wasn’t professional for the lot of them to single him out when apparently he was doing better than the rest of them. “They don’t wan’ my kind ‘round here, Dr. Hart. I’m not up ta par with their standards, I s’pose.”

“Dr. King said that?”

He shrugged, “Eh, don’t get on his case. He’s certainly not the only one.”

“I apologize, I had no idea.”

“Not yer fault; people don’t like change. Fresh bloodlines don’t bode well in places like this, yea?”

“That’s no excuse.”

There was nothing for Eggsy to do except shrug. “In answer to yer question, though, I’ll speak I guess. Send me an email just letting me know more of what you want me to talk about so I c’n prepare something. Really rather not go off the cuff when I’m already behind the eight.”

“Of course, of course,” Harry’s mind was trying to process a million things at once, “I really appreciate it, Professor Unwin.”

“Call me Gary, please,” he chuckled, “Still not used ta being called Professor.”

He chuckled, “It’s an acquired taste, I’ll admit,” he sighed, “Well, if you’ll excuse me.”

Eggsy nodded, “’Course. Thanks fer stopping in.”

“I should be thanking you,” he smiled, “Have a good weekend, Gary.”

“You too, Dr. Hart,” he smiled before forcing his attention back to his discussion notes, trying not to dwell on how he’d almost completely forgotten what the head of the department looked like, and sounded like.