After Marcus dies, you don’t expect to fall in love ever again. Not least with a girl. A girl half your age. A girl half your age who also happens to be your student and who has the audacity and sheer daring to fall in love back.
You suppose life has a funny way of making things work.
Raven Reyes is the first student in your many, many years of teaching to challenge you at every turn of the syllabus. The first time she does it, it takes you completely by surprise - after all, you’re lecturing on biology, for goodness sake. Some of the studies you mention in class were done a whole century ago and have been proven beyond doubt, their conclusions held as universal truth. You’re not sure how and why a mere student would be trying to dispute them, but Raven does. She cites newer studies and unearths fudged statistics and points out inconsistencies.
Your colleagues urge you to take her in hand and stop her absolutely ruining your lesson plans. You decide not to take their advice - mostly because you end up going home after her first week in classes and doing a thorough search on the points she brings up in class. You find yourself unsurprised when she turns out to be spot-on with every criticism. The current approved syllabus is outdated - not necessarily wrong, and still accurate in some aspects, but science has been moving faster than the education system can possibly keep up with.
More than anything, you find yourself impressed. Raven is brazen and a tad disruptive, but behind her interruptions and corrections you can see hard work, patience, curiosity and intelligence. Where everyone else has stuck to the textbook and lecture slides, she’s gone above and beyond to do her own research, to draw her own conclusions. She might not ever be on the college dean’s list, but she will thrive in the real world. You’re sure of it.
You get the feeling that her classmates won’t appreciate this the way you do, though, so you call her into your office after class one day and lay it out straight for her, telling her how much you respect her views and the work that has gone into developing them. You ask if she’d like to work with you to look through and review the syllabus for the rest of the year - unofficially, of course - instead of speaking out in class. You want the syllabus to be more up-to-date, too, but you’re pretty sure Raven has more time on her hands to research and make corrections than you do. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
Raven agrees immediately, standing before your desk with a huge grin on her face. “I’d love to, Ms Griffin,” she says, looking confident and excited. “Most of my other professors have just shot me down in class, so I really appreciate this.”
You think you’ll come to appreciate it too, and you turn out to be right.
Raven meets you in your office every Friday afternoon with a new sheaf of notes and you both go through a new portion of the syllabus, picking out glaring inaccuracies and editing certain things. There needs to be a balance between meeting the existing educational standards and complete correctness, which eventually starts frustrating Raven. She loses her patience the one afternoon you’re explaining to her why a brand-new study published in the red book doesn’t necessarily negate another study on the syllabus and why students aren’t necessarily wrong if they reference it in their essays. “But if it’s no longer a hundred per cent right, why is it still on the textbook?”
You sigh. “Raven, none of the textbooks on the college booklist are a hundred per cent accurate, because every subject is advancing too fast for us to keep up with. We have to limit the syllabus so the exams are fairer and the markers can grade more holistically. Just look at history - the current World History syllabus stops at year 2000, and students get marked down for inaccuracy if they reference events beyond year 2000 even if the event sheds new light on a previous historical event. That’s - “
“Stupid. It’s stupid," Raven cuts you off, snorting. “The world is moving faster, which is true. The education system should just keep up the pace, then. It’s our country’s most powerful weapon against ignorance and fear, and way more funding should be going into improving the system. But no, instead we keep throwing money at the military to build a bunch of tanks instead.”
Despite yourself, you smile over at her. Raven sticks staunchly by her beliefs, believes true patriotism is criticising her country when it’s going wrong, and is brave enough to do both of those things even when everyone else turns against her for it. You’ve never met someone exactly like her, and you think you probably won’t ever. You nod back at her and shut the textbook lying on the desk. “Look, Raven, I agree with you.”
“Really?” She looks shocked, then a little abashed. “Sorry. I know I was being short. That was rude. It just makes me so angry, to think of what we’re losing because of the state’s insistence on involving itself in wars that don’t concern it, while there are kids in the Bronx who have ten-year-old textbooks which cost more than a fucking car.”
“I get that,” you answer. “I’m a teacher, I see that every day and it upsets me too.” You stop to look at her, really look at her. “Tell me you’re going to try and change things after you leave school. I think you would be good at it. I can see you making real change.”
Raven looks away quickly, but you catch the faint blush on her cheeks before she avoids your gaze. “I guess.” She shrugs slightly, and there’s a bit of a slump in her shoulders. “I mean, I don’t know. All the people who can make real change are always, you know, those people in high positions with a lot of friends, who went to Ivy League colleges and graduated with honours or whatever. And I just don’t see myself doing that. I actually… I kind of see myself working with my hands. Like, my favourite class in high school was auto shop. My guidance counsellor said I could be a lawyer if I ‘applied myself’.” She does air-quotes around the phrase, snorting. “But I did my research and law seems like a profession where you can only pay the rent by helping big corporations take homes and livelihoods away from people who can’t fight back. I don’t want that kind of life.”
The biology textbook is completely forgotten. You fold your arms and lean closer, looking her straight in the eye. “So what do you want to be?”
“I think… I maybe… want to be a mechanic. Like, a proper mechanic, working with cars in a garage and everything. And I think I would want to keep speaking out against bad stuff, things that are going wrong, but, you know, not as a job. Maybe on a blog or something. I guess that’s not really changing the world?”
You smile gently at her. “On the contrary, I think that’s a great goal. Raven, your goal seems to be doing honest work while speaking up how and where you can. That’s what some of the greatest minds in history have done. That’s what some of the greatest mind in biology have done, too.” She grins as you pat the textbook with one hand. “I’m very proud of you. You’ll go far.”
You both fall silent, listening to the birds chirping and students yelling outside on the college green, sound filtering in through your office window. The late afternoon sun is streaming in, illuminating your desk in pale gold, and it’s surreally beautiful. Raven’s expression looks uncharacteristically soft, but that daring is still there as she reaches across the table just so that her fingertips are touching yours. “Thank you.”
There’s another long moment before you let her tangle her fingers in yours, and it reminds you of all the biology studies you’ve ever read - when a scientist stumbles upon something totally new, something previously undiscovered and unknown, and there’s a moment where they just know that something is beginning, in the here and now, and they have no idea what exactly it is - they just know that something’s about to start.
You think you want to let it.