The poet stood next to the bridge and watched as the young woman approached. The world ground to a near standstill as he remarked her wide, dark eyes and elegantly curled brown hair.
At first he didn’t recognize her. She was breathtakingly beautiful, her movements sure and graceful. Yet there was something about her face and figure that reminded him of the girl he’d fallen in love with long ago. They’d gone their separate ways, and he had always mourned her, his angel, his muse, his beloved Beatrice. Without her, his life had been lonely and small.
Now his blessedness appeared.
As she approached him with her companions, he bowed his head and body in a chivalrous salute. He had no expectation that his presence would be acknowledged. She was both perfect and untouchable, a brown-eyed angel dressed in resplendent white, while he was older, world-weary and wanting.
She had almost passed him when his downcast eyes caught sight of one of her slippers — a slipper that hesitated just in front of him. His heart beat a furious tattoo as he waited, breathless. A soft and gentle voice broke into his remembrances as she spoke to him kindly. His startled eyes flew to hers. For years and years he’d longed for this moment, dreamed of it even, but never had he imagined encountering her in such a serendipitous fashion.
And never had he dared hope he would be greeted so sweetly.
Caught off balance, he mumbled his pleasantries and allowed himself the indulgence of a smile — a smile that was returned to him tenfold by his muse. His heart swelled within him as the love he held for her multiplied and burned like an inferno in his chest.
Alas, their conversation was all too brief before she declared that she must depart. He bowed before her as she swept by, and then straightened to stare at her retreating form. His joy at their reunion was tempered by an emergent sadness as he wondered if he’d ever see her again…
“ Miss Mitchell?”
Professor Gabriel Emerson’s voice carried across the seminar room to the attractive brown-eyed young woman who was seated at the back.
Lost in thought, or lost in translation, her head was down as she scribbled furiously in her notebook.
Ten pairs of eyes swung to her, to her pale face and long lashes, her thin white fingers clutching a pen. Then ten pairs of eyes swung back to the professor, who stood perfectly still and began to scowl. His scathing demeanor contrasted sharply with the overall symmetry of his features, his large, expressive eyes, and full mouth. He was ruggedly handsome, but in that moment bitterly severe, which rather ruined the overall pleasing effect of his appearance.
“Ahem.” A modest cough to her right caught the woman’s attention.
She glanced in surprise at the broad-shouldered man sitting next to her. He smiled and flicked his eyes to the front of the room, back to the professor.
She followed his gaze slowly, looking up into a pair of angry, peering blue eyes. She swallowed noisily.
“I expect an answer to my question, Miss Mitchell. If you’d care to join us. ” His voice was glacial, like his eyes.
The other graduate students shifted in their seats and stole furtive glances at one another. Their expressions said what crawled up his ass? But they said nothing. (For it is commonly known that graduate students are loath to confront their professors with respect to anything, let alone rude behavior.)
The young woman opened her mouth minutely and closed it, staring into those unblinking blue eyes, her own eyes wide like a frightened rabbit.
“Is English your first language?” he mocked her.
A raven-haired woman seated at his right hand tried to stifle a laugh, smothering it into an unconvincing cough. All eyes shifted back to the frightened rabbit, whose skin exploded into crimson as she ducked her head, finally escaping the professor’s gaze.
“Since Miss Mitchell seems to be carrying on a parallel seminar in a different language, perhaps someone else would be kind enough to answer my question?”
The beauty to his right was only too eager. She turned to face him and beamed as she answered his question in great detail, making a show of herself by gesturing with her hands as she quoted Dante in his original Italian. When she had finished, she smiled acidly at the back of the room, then proceeded to gaze up at the professor and sigh. All that was lacking from her display was a quick leap to the floor and a rubbing of her back on his leg to show that she would be his pet forever. (Not that he would have appreciated the gesture.)
The professor frowned almost imperceptibly at no one in particular and turned his back to write on the board. The frightened rabbit blinked back tears as she continued scribbling, but mercifully she did not cry.
A few minutes later, as the professor droned on and on about the conflict between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, a small square of folded paper appeared on top of the frightened rabbit’s Italian dictionary. At first she didn’t notice it, but once again, a soft ahem drew her attention to the good-looking man beside her. He smiled more widely this time, almost eagerly, and glanced down at the paper.
She saw it and blinked. Carefully watching the back of the professor as he drew endless circles around endless Italian words, she brought the paper to her lap where she quietly unfolded it.
Emerson is an ass.
No one would have noticed because no one was looking at her, except for the man at her side. As soon as she read those words, a different kind of flush appeared on her face, two pink clouds on the curve of her cheeks, and she smiled. Not enough to show teeth or what could be dimples or a laugh line or two, but a smile nonetheless.
She raised her large eyes to the man next to her and looked at him shyly. A wide, friendly grin spread across his face.
“Something funny, Miss Mitchell?”
Her brown eyes dilated in terror. Her new friend’s smile quickly disappeared as he turned to look at the professor.
She knew better now than to look up at the professor’s cold blue eyes.
Instead, she put her head down and worried her plump lower lip between her teeth, back and forth and back and forth.
“It was my fault, Professor. I was just asking what page we were on,”
the friendly man interceded on her behalf.
“Hardly an appropriate question from a doctoral student, Paul. But since you asked, we began with the first canto. I trust you can find it without Miss Mitchell’s help. Oh, and Miss Mitchell?”
The frightened rabbit’s pony tail trembled ever so slightly as she lifted her gaze.
“See me in my office after class.”
At the end of the seminar, Julia Mitchell hastily tucked the folded piece of paper she’d been cradling in her lap into her Italian dictionary, under the entry asino.
“Sorry about all that. I’m Paul Norris.” The friendly man extended his large paw over the table. She shook it gently, and he marveled at how small her hand was in comparison to his. He could have bruised it just by flexing his palm.
“Hello, Paul. I’m Julia. Julia Mitchell.”
“Good to meet you, Julia. I’m sorry The Professor was such a prick. I don’t know what’s eating him.” Paul gave Emerson his preferred title with no little sarcasm.
She reddened slightly and turned back to her books.
“You’re new?” he persisted, tilting his head a little as if he was trying to catch her eye.
“Just arrived. From Saint Joseph’s University.”
He nodded as if that meant something. “And you’re here for a Master’s?”
“Yes.” She gestured to the front of the now empty seminar room. “It probably doesn’t seem like it, but I’m supposed to be studying to be a Dante specialist.”
Paul whistled through his teeth. “So you’re here for Emerson?”
She nodded, and he noticed that the veins in her neck began to pulsate slightly as her heart rate quickened. Since he couldn’t find an explanation for her reaction, he dismissed it. But he would be reminded of it later.
“He’s difficult to work with, so he doesn’t have a lot of students. I’m writing my dissertation with him, and there’s also Christa Peterson, whom you’ve already met.”
“Christa?” She gave him a questioning look.
“The tart at the front. She’s his other PhD student, but her goal is to be the future Mrs. Emerson. She just started the program, and she’s already baking him cookies, dropping by his office, leaving telephone messages. It’s unbelievable.”
Julia nodded again but said nothing.
“Christa doesn’t seem to be aware of the strict non-fraternization policy set up by the University of Toronto.” Paul rolled his eyes and was rewarded with a very pretty smile. He told himself that he would have to make Julia Mitchell smile more often. But that would need to be postponed, for now.
“You’d better go. He wanted to see you after class, and he’ll be waiting.”
Julia quickly tossed her things into a shabby L.L. Bean knapsack that she had carried since she was a freshman undergraduate. “Um, I don’t know where his office is.”
“Turn left on your way out of the seminar room, then make another left. He has the corner office at the end of the hall. Good luck, and I’ll see you next class, if not before.”