“People on both sides of the Atlantic know that we’re going out” said my linguistics professor, one evening in his apartment.
I glanced across the sofa at him where we had been sitting and drinking wine while he graded papers. While his blue eyes often looked over the top of his glasses at me with mild irritation, he averted my gaze now. My heart thudded as I pondered the meaning of his statement. Perhaps I would be dismissed as president of the college French Club. Maybe he would be reprimanded or worse, lose his job. I scanned his thick salt-and-pepper hair, as if answers could be read in strands of gray, white, and black. They revealed nothing, but a smirk appeared on his lips, communicating everything.
This, this situation, wasn’t of any real concern, but a spasm of gossip discharged in our small circle of French majors. Years prior, he had lived out an actual scandal with a different linguistics student for whom he had left his wife, children, and tenure at an equivalent school. Since their relationship had ended, my current role existed only as a mechanism to relive the drama of yore.
He courted me in the Foreign Language lounge, flirted with me at French Club, and kissed me between the cat box and the microwave in my rented room. He played “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by The Police, for this had been their theme music. I wasn’t his girlfriend, merely a shadow of Things That Had Been. I watched him swirl his red wine thoughtfully in the wine glass that he was holding.
“How do you think they know?” I asked him.
“Apparently, Jean-Luc told Sadie. And she told everyone else.” he finished.
“Ah” I answered, understanding fully. Jean-Luc, a French exchange student, correctly surmised that my paper bag of supplies for a previous Réunion Française at this very apartment had not only contained items for a public gathering, but those for a private one as well. When he confronted me with his guess, I could only blush, shift my eyes, stammer, and nod ever so slightly. Naturally, Jean-Luc brought this tantalizing tidbit to Sadie, the previous French Club president who knew me better than anyone at school and was currently working as an au pair in France.
A tall, waif-like woman who combed her flaxen hair into a perfect chignon, Sadie dressed in clothes that conveyed maturity a generation beyond that of the other student members. Formally she had established herself as a leader in our group. Informally she took me under wing, invited me to events, divulged the latest gossip, and created intrigues among our circles, as if Madame de Merteuil lived and breathed in a college setting. Along with sips of bitter wine at most of our events, I drank in her observations and her calculations, grateful for proximity to a sophistication that I didn’t possess. Life had dulled a bit while she was away, until this moment, when I realized I had become her unwitting Cecille.
He kissed me then, as if I had done something right. I felt this momentary happiness of his wash over him, but not me. For Monsieur Flirt, our relationship, though tepid, had unfolded in a predictable, correct direction. To have not been the subject of rumors would have denied him his “due”. Not only was he going to keep his job, for there was hardly a scandal here, he might even score some reputational points among his peers. He stopped kissing me and resumed grading papers, for he was a professor with an ivy-league Ph.D. first, and a mediocre lover, second.
I sat back on the sofa that blended into his apartment walls…”,