Earline elbows open the stately building’s heavy door. Sidestepping, she widens the opening just enough to enter. She walks in, carefully balancing the bakery tray flat, trying not to drop miscellaneous books and papers fluttering and leaning from her hands at awkward angles. She wiggles one shoulder to adjust her backpack. Spotting a small table just inside the door she plops all the items down just as some begin to fall. Taking a minute, she shakes her hands to restore circulation and rearranges the various items suitably. A small avalanche of papers nestles about her feet, a few strays floating down the hall. She scoops them all up, stopping occasionally to tug down the back of her impossibly short skirt every time it resumes its creeping journey up her backside.
Stuffing the paperwork back into a folder Earline glances up at the hallway’s high ceilings, disappearing in either direction. In the early evening light the unlit corridors appear gloomy and spooky to her, unlike the cheerful bustle and chatter when classes are in session. She takes a deep, shaky breath and covers the short distance to the wide, curving staircase leading up to the smaller classrooms and offices on the second and third floors.
Cautiously mounting the first flight of stairs she mutters, “How do women walk in these shoes all the time? I know 4 inch heels are supposed to be sexy, but really- peacock feathers and googly eyes? Oh well, nothing I can do about it now. I hope Ta-Da down at Scrounge and Lounge is really as fashion savvy as she says. Being from the South, where ladies dress up for every occasion, I guess she must be.”
Rounding the curve toward Floor 3 she mounts the first tread whispering, “Smile”. Second step- “Yes”. Third step- “Smart”. Fourth step- “Give”. Fifth step-“Ask/Take.” She repeats the mantra with each upward step.
Earline miraculously reaches the third floor without further mishap except for the creeping skirt which now resembles a wide belt. With no place available to set her packages and papers she shimmies left then right, flamenco-ing in circles and gyrating with heels clacking on the marble tiles until the offending garment descends into PG territory. At the sound of a *cough* from a nearby doorway, She spins around and loses her balance. One shoe flies from her foot, narrowly missing the head of the man just straightening up from leaning against the door jamb. A small squeak escapes her lips as she begins to tumble backward.
Warm, strong arms encircle Earline’s shoulders from behind, righting her and holding on until she is almost vertical and somewhat steady albeit semi-shoeless.
Earline: Eeeek, errrr, Hi Dr.Z. You can let go now, I think. (She looks up at him and smiles tentatively.)
Zebrudus: (Smiles): Are you sure, Earline?
Earline: Yeah, I guess so. I mean…Yes, I’m fine, thank you, Dr. Z. ( Zebrudus releases Earline and she wobbles but remains upright balancing on one leg.)
Zebrudus: Alright then, shall I retrieve your shoe? (He picks it up and dangles it from his index finger.)
Earline: Yup, oops, certainly, I would appreciate it. Can we go into your office? Um… Errr… Are you busy? I’d like a word. (She hobbles after him down the hall.)
Zebrudus: Yes, we can go into my office. I had just finished submitting all the semester grades to the registrar’s office when I thought I heard a woodpecker in the hall, thus my stealthy encounter with you. I didn’t mean to frighten you. Now what can I do for you?
Earline (Drops all her goodies on Dr. Z’s desk.): Well, now that the semester is over and you are stepping down as a professor, I wanted to invite you to a little party the class is having. Even though you were a tough teacher, I really learned a lot. I didn’t think I could ever understand all this science stuff, errr complexities, but your stories related to what I know about.
Zebrudus: Thank you, Earline. I can say the past semester wasn’t without challenges, but I do appreciate your kind words. Dr. Wolfram is a fine chemistry professor and she will continue the second semester admirably. We are fortunate she is here. By the way, I want to congratulate you on your hard work. You really brought your grades up. In fact, you have the honor of receiving the Most Improved Certificate.
Earline: Holy sh.. I mean- Wow, um… Thanks. I didn’t know there was one.
Zebrudus: There is now. By the way, am I keeping you from something? I notice you have a bakery tray containing doughnuts and muffins listing precariously atop my paperwork.
Earline: (Opens bakery tray) No, I am just where I want to be right now. Would you like a sugary confection?
Zebrudus: Now that you are offering, I am in the mood for a sweet treat.
Earline: (Holds tray out): Help yourself.
Zebrudus: (Removes tray from her hands and gently places his hands on her shoulders): I believe I will…
6 AM the next morning:
ZaPing sounds Mama’s phone. She sleepily detangles her legs from Mr. Muscles torso and reaches for her phone.
Mama: Now who is sending me a text this early?
BaZeep vibrates Mr. Muscles phone. He rolls over and picks up his phone.
Mr. Muscles: Only one person I can imagine, and she better not need bailing out.
They both open their texts to reveal a photo of a peacock feather and googly eyed high heel sprinkled with crumbs and containing an empty muffin paper.