Professor Charles Lewis. On paper it sounded like the name of a 70-year old British male who should have retired from teaching in the early 90's.
But Charlie wasn't 70. He was 27. Naturally, being a decent looking male on the younger end of the college professor spectrum, almost every female in the classroom swooned the very moment he walked in that first day, September 1st. My first day of college.
He walked in one minute late carrying a battered briefcase, with chalk inexplicably already present on the sleeves of his sweater, despite it being the first class of the day. If it weren't for the briefcase, one might have mistaken him for another student. His hair was a wild sandy brown mess and he looked exhausted, like maybe he was up late, not ready for school to start the night before, just like most of the kids in the room.
I had heard of him. In fact, it was a safe assumption that almost everyone sitting in the room had, and it wasn't because he was the young professor.
All of us in that room might have been fresh out of high school and clueless about what college would entail, but even we all knew of the Lewis family.
The famously wealthy Lewis family had a history in the oil industry, and now owned several large corporations. That Charles Lewis, probable heir to the empire, taught at a tiny public college, was all anyone could talk about. Why wasn't he working for his parents? Why teach? It was all anybody wanted to know.
I was having none of it. I could only assume that rich boy Charlie wanted to be different and break away from his family's image. He might not explicitly be part of any Lewis corporation, but I had little doubt that his name wasn't still on some sort of trust fund somewhere.
And if Charlie Lewis had money waiting for him somewhere, then this job couldn't mean terribly much to him.
On the other hand, I was the girl that had spent hours in the Biology lab back in high school. This class was everything to me. I wanted the best educational experience this tiny college could give me.
Something told me that if this wealthy young guy was supposed to be my professor, then I wasn't going to get the same type of education I wanted. I wanted the 70-year old professor that should have retired in the early 90's. At least that guy would know his stuff.
After setting his briefcase down, Professor Lewis's eyes slowly scanned the room until they settled on me.
I wondered what the give away was. The bags under my eyes? My disheveled hair? The fact that I was the only student in the room without a laptop in front of me?
He had singled me out. The girl from the penniless family with the sick brother.
Because that was the other thing people liked to talk about. The tragic tale of the sixteen-year old boy diagnosed with end stage lung cancer.
Jimmy had never smoked a cigarette.
And maybe that was why I cared about Biology. I needed to understand. What was happening to him; why were his cells growing and dividing uncontrollably? Why was his cancer metastasizing?
Why couldn't he fight back?
I would eventually learn that Charlie Lewis wasn't a rich jerk looking to defy his parents by teaching.
But I wouldn't learn that lesson yet.
Before I ever heard Professor Lewis speak that first day, there was a knock at the door of the classroom.
And Mom's face said it all.
One year, two months later.
I looked at the slide.
"The cell is in prophase."
Professor Lewis could barely hide his frustration. His normally vibrant demeanor was absent. Not that I could blame him. The cell was in metaphase. I knew it. He knew I knew it. He knew I was purposely answering incorrectly.
"Ms. Davis, I would like to speak with you after class." As they met mine for only a brief moment, Professor Lewis's eyes were hard. The soft gaze that had singled me out in a room full of students a year ago was gone.
"Yes, sir." I drew out rudely, words dripping in sarcasm. I didn't catch his expression as he walked away, hands stuffed firmly in his pockets.
I rolled my eyes. Like this joke of a Professor could actually discipline me.
Logan slid into the seat next to me. He was a year younger than I, but here we were, taking the same introductory level Biology class. Logan had been Jimmy's closest friend. Now that I was back from my yearlong absence from school, it was nice to have him around.
When I had finally returned for my second attempt at my first day of college, the only thing that held me together was knowing that Logan would be there. It was like having a little piece of Jimmy there too. It was almost enough to make me forget that everyone in the classroom knew what had happened. It was almost enough to make me forget that it was supposed to be Jimmy here, sitting with his best friend Logan.
"Why do you keep pushing his buttons?"
I shot Logan a look that told him not to press the issue.
But Logan was one of the few people those days that didn't go out of his way to try to spare my feelings.
"Jessie, you know better than anyone that you can't define a person by rumors about them."
"Okay there Dr. Phil," I deadpanned, putting another slide on the stage of the microscope. "God forbid I say something negative about Charlie boy." I occupied myself with looking at the slide, not wanting to have to meet Logan's undoubtedly judgmental gaze.
"As far as I'm concerned, if Professor Lewis was fifty we wouldn't be having this issue," Logan lectured. "He cares about his students, he pushes them to learn, and he's managed to go from being talked about incessantly because of being a Lewis to being talked about incessantly because he's an excellent teacher and nobody saw it coming. You're the one that's still holding on to what you believed a year ago."
There was a beat of silence, in which I was sure Logan and I were both thinking about Jimmy.
I was no idiot. I knew exactly what I was doing. I wanted to hold onto the way things were when Jimmy was here. And when Jimmy was here, we spent the two months leading up to my first day of College in that hospital room, talking about what school was going to be like. When my schedule was made, and I found out that I had been placed in Professor Lewis's class, I will always remember what Jimmy had said.
"He's probably some rich snob trying to show his parents he doesn't need their money," he had laughed.
He didn't laugh much in those final days. I remember feeling my stomach leap as I saw the old Jimmy even briefly in his tired, but smiling eyes.
So maybe I was in denial. Maybe I didn't want to admit that Professor Lewis actually had a head on his shoulders. I worried that if I let go of my beliefs about Professor Lewis, that I might let go of Jimmy too.
And I wasn't ready.
"You're failing my class."
After Jimmy died it wasn't infrequent for me to space out. Somehow class had sped by, and now it was only Professor Lewis and I left in the classroom. I must have said goodbye to Logan, but I remembered none of the remainder of our conversation.
I looked over at Professor Lewis; unable to hide that I was alarmed. He probably thought I was surprised I was failing, when in fact I was unable to hide the fear that I wasn't in control anymore. I had just lost the last forty-five minutes of my life to my own head.
The microscope that had been in front of me had been put away. Thirty-five other students that had sat in the same classroom as me had left. It was all a blur.
My failure of this class was deliberate – but losing track of time – this was something I had been struggling with for one year and two months now.
Despite having suffered more than I could understand in the last year, I had rarely lost my composure in public. As I stammered out the weak sounding apology, I shakily stood up, gathering my things to leave. The sharp-tongued student that had drawled sarcastically in her professor's face was gone. My ears were buzzing and everything around me was a haze as I pulled out my keys and took off running.
I didn't hear him call after me if he did.
The next thing I knew, I was in my car. I knew I was going fast, and instinctively slammed on the breaks.
But not before I caught the distinctive eyes of Charlie Lewis, and the front of my car slammed right into him.