The next day, I tried to ask Liana if anything was wrong, but she just groaned and threw a pillow at my face.
“Everyone gets tipsy some time,” she said. “Now shut up and let me sleep. My head’s killing me.”
“Proof that you were more than a little tipsy,” I declared. “You never get that drunk. And you thought Darryl was Jared.”
When I’d gotten home last night, Darryl had tucked Liana into bed, but she wouldn’t let him go. She had still been holding onto his hand by the time I got home. He even told me he’d held back her hair during the five times she’d puked into the toilet. And she wouldn’t stop calling him Jared.
At the mention of Jared, something in Liana’s face changed. She cast me an angry, defensive look. “Are you implying something, Caren? Scared I might try to steal your soul mate away from you? Are you comparing me to a home-wrecker?”
“That’s not what I meant at all,” I said, now equally as angry. “I’m just concerned. You always bottle everything inside, and I wanted to know if anything was wrong.”
Her features softened a bit. “I’m sorry. I know you’re only trying to be a good friend. But can we just not talk about it right now?”
So I respected her wishes and dropped the issue.
Later that night, she came to the kitchen while I was cooking dinner and hugged me. “You’re the best friend a girl can ever have. I just wanted to let you know that I was a little upset yesterday because Jared and I were having some problems, but we worked them out over the phone today. So no need to worry about me anymore.”
And that was the end of that, for which I was glad. I couldn’t have any drama going on just right now. Not when I needed to study for Dr. Evil’s test.
The rest of the weekend flew by in a flurry of fun and studying in equal parts. Before I knew it, Tuesday had come, and I hoped I was prepared enough to face the vile schemes of Dr. Evil. He was definitely not going to make his class easy for anyone, as there was a test today on just the first lecture and our reading assignment. It was no multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank test, but a full length five essay extravaganza that might as well have been a final.
The uncomfortable squirming around me said that my fellow classmates were finding the test to be extremely difficult, but I knew exactly what I was doing, thanks to my weekend’s marathon training. However, as I had expected, Dr. Evil was going to make this more difficult for me than for the rest of the class. Stupidly, I had made it easy for him by sitting in an aisle seat, and he stood over my shoulder the entire time I was writing, trying to make me nervous with occasional grunts that sounded like he disagreed with my answers.
But I refused to be intimidated. Although my heart was racing with anxiety, I masked it with what I hoped to be cool indifference. It was hard to pretend he wasn’t there as he was one of those men whose presence seemed to take up the entire room, but I did my best, thinking all the while that the next time I took a test, I would not take an aisle seat. It would be trickier for him to stand over me if I was sitting in the middle of the row, but then he probably would think of some other way to distract me.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, but in reality was only half an hour, I finished the test, and with decisive confidence, slammed down my pen and closed my bluebook. Most likely, Dr. Evil was expecting me to glare at him at this point, so I did the opposite. As I handed him my test, I smiled so sweetly that I could have passed for a strawberry shortcake with butter cream frosting.
I fluttered my eyes prettily, and whispered so that only he could hear. “Thank you kind professor, for that oh-so-educational exam.”
My reward was that he choked, trying to keep down his laughter since the other students were still struggling through their essays.
I went home that day, feeling pure triumph. I was confident in my answers, and I couldn’t think of any possible way for him to fail me this time.
But the following week, my triumph evaporated like a flimsy snowflake in the heat of a Los Angeles summer. The red marks on my test bled through the paper as if I had used them to stop the blood from a knife wound.
D-. The giant letter and minus sign seemed to take up the entire piece of paper. It was impossible. I couldn’t have gotten a D-…those answers were all right. I might have accepted a B without question, but this…this was an all-out declaration of war.
Dr. Evil was scheming to flunk me out of his class again, but I was not going to take this like a scared little mouse hiding in a dark corner.
My hands trembled as I walked alongside Darryl and my roommates, not out of sadness but out of fury.
Liana sensed it. “Uh oh…what grade did he give you?”
I thrust my test in her hands, too angry to speak. She flipped through it and frowned. “Your answers are mostly the same as mine. The only difference is you got question two right, and I got it wrong. This is definitely “A” material.”
“He doesn’t have a legitimate reason to do this to you,” Stacy said. “We can threaten to expose his partiality to a higher authority. They have to listen to us, or you can sue them.”
“I’ll talk to him first,” I said. “I want him to tell me to my face what his problem is. And then I’ll report him.”
All this time, Darryl had been silent, but as I glanced at him, I was astounded at the rage reflecting in his eyes. He called Dr. Evil a rather disturbing epithet followed by a string of cuss words, and then somehow managed to gain back control. “I don’t even know why you would bother talking to him first. You should just report him. That bastard doesn’t deserve to be a professor.”
“No,” I said. “Just because he doesn’t follow the rules, doesn’t mean I should stoop to his level. I’ll speak to him in office hours today to give him one more chance to change my grade.”
“I’ll go with you.” Darryl wasn’t offering, he was demanding.
“No, no.” The last thing I needed was to bring my friends to defend me. Dr. Evil would just laugh at me and think I couldn’t stand up for myself. I gave Darryl and my roommates a stern look. “I need to face him by myself.”
Darryl didn’t look too happy about it, but at least it seemed like he would respect my choice. After all, there wasn’t anything he could do about it—he wasn’t my boyfriend, at least not yet.
So when two thirty rolled around, I made my way to Professor Inari’s office.
I didn’t even have to knock on his door. It was wide open, and he was sitting casually at his desk. He saw me and smiled. “I’ve been expecting you.”
I slammed my test on his desk, not in the mood for the preliminaries. “You know that I deserved an A on this test. All my answers were correct.”
Slowly, he stood up from his desk, taking his time to look through my test. His reply came out in a lazy drawl, as if he were talking to a child. “Might I remind you, Miss Chang, that my class is a writing class.”
I scrunched my eyebrows. Of course I knew that. “So?”
“So…if my tests were simply all about writing down correct answers, most people would get A’s. I grade tests based on how well my students phrase their answers. And frankly, I was not at all impressed by your writing. It seems too…amateurish.”
My mouth fell open. So this is how he intended to play this game. “Stop lying!” I cried. “Don’t think I’m scared of taking this to a higher authority.”
“Go ahead,” he said. “They’ll only take my side. They’ve seen many a student with similar complaints about grades, and usually those cases get thrown out, as most students are just not capable of admitting they are the ones at fault, not the professor.”
I gritted my teeth. “Well, Professor, I’m still not dropping your class, which was obviously your intent, as we both know.”
“If you say so.”
At this point, I wanted to dive across the desk and pound his face into the ground. I had never felt so violent in my entire life. “I do say so, and you do know so. What is your problem? Ever since the first time we met, you’ve been trying to stop me from writing, and I want to know why. Why do you hate me?”
He laughed. “Oh Caren, you have such a wonderful imagination, I will admit that. First your white fox story, and now you think I hate you. But creative ideas are not enough to write a good story if you can’t form the right words together.”
“Just answer my question!” I shouted with all the pent up frustration in my soul. “Why do you want—”
A louder voice interrupted me as Darryl sprung into the room to place himself between me and the professor. “Professor Inari, I don’t believe your lies. Caren is a fabulous writer, and you know it.”
So Darryl had been listening to our conversation all this time. He had come to support me despite my request that none of my friends come with me. I had never felt so relieved.
Darryl continued his tirade in a controlled, yet formidable voice. “I don’t know why you have it out to take an innocent girl down, and I don’t care if you are a genius and have tenure. What you’re doing is a crime. Maybe we can’t win this case against you if we go to a higher authority, but we’re not afraid of you. I demand that you re-evaluate Caren’s test and give her the grade she really earned.”
Professor Inari’s entire face drew taut, and for a moment, I really believed he was going to yell at Darryl. His intense gaze could have bore holes in us both. He looked at Darryl, then at me, and back at Darryl again.
Finally, he said, “All right, I will look at the test again, but I can’t guarantee anything.”
“Thank you,” I said. “That’s all I ask…for now.”
Darryl nodded his head. “Thank you for your time, professor.”
We turned to head out the door, but Professor Inari called my name. “Wait, I have something else I want to say to you.” He glanced towards Darryl. “In private.”
Darryl eyed the professor warily. Without taking his eyes away, he said, “I’ll wait for you outside, but just call if you need me.”
“Oh please,” Professor Inari scoffed. “I’m not going to do anything illegal to her.”
“With you, I wouldn’t know,” Darryl muttered under his breath, walking out the door.
Professor Inari cleared his throat. “Caren, I just wanted to clarify something. I know you think I hate you, but I don’t.”
“Then why—” He cut my question, knowing what I was about to ask.
“I can’t tell you why…at least not now. But I just wanted to let you know that I don’t hate you.”
He sat back down in his chair and sighed. I wondered what he meant. Why couldn’t he tell me why he didn’t want me to write anymore? His animosity had all began when he had found my white fox story, and I knew he didn’t want me to continue writing it. But what did a little story by an insignificant college girl have to do with him? It wasn’t like I was bothering him by writing a story that was only meant for myself. Somehow, I thought he might like to know that.
“I won’t publish it,” I said.
He glanced up sharply.
“The white fox story. I never meant to publish it. It’s for my eyes only.”
He still looked tensed, but his eyes had relaxed considerably. “I never said that any of this had to do with the white fox story, did I?” He sounded like he was asking himself this, rather than me.
“I just assumed since it all started after you read my story, and it was obvious you wanted me to drop your class before we started learning about white fox legends.”
He swore under his breath, then looked back at me. I was more confused than ever. “Well,” I said, “I’ll just go now.” There was obviously no more to say, and this all felt so awkward.
But apparently he still wasn’t finished with me. “Wait.” I turned to face him once again. He took my test in his hands and flipped it open to the first page. “I’m done re-evaluating, and you’re right. I might have been a bit hard on you.” He grabbed a red pen and scribbled out the D-. In its place was a big, fat A.
“I’m sorry, Caren. You deserve the A, and you and that little boyfriend of yours were right. You’re not a bad writer, not bad at all.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” I blurted out, then immediately wondered why I had bothered to clarify that.
He gave me a little smirk, but it immediately died. “Will you forgive me?”
I was surprised that he had conceded so quickly, but neither was I about to let him off the hook after all these weeks he had tortured me. “I’ll see. You’ll have to be on your best behavior. No more stalking me, and no more humiliating me in class.”
He nodded solemnly. “I promise. And one last request. I told you to stop calling me Professor and to start calling me Khit. It would make me feel a lot better if we could become friends.”
I thought about it for a second. “How about I address you formally in class and in front of others, but in all other circumstances, I’ll call you Khit?”
He sighed. “I guess that works too.”
I smiled and headed for the door for the third time. “Thank you, Khit.”
And just like that, all my problems were solved, or so I thought.