I didn't think, the day that I kissed my professor for the first time, that he would kiss me back. His lips were soft. He tasted like coffee. The coffee I had made for him.
"That was very nice," he said.
My professor smiled at me. Though hesitant at first, he had returned the kiss.
My professor, my creative-writing teacher, had asked me to watch his dog, Amira, for the day. It was the last day of the semester. He had a standard poodle. A large dog with apricot-colored fur. I loved standard poodles. I had grown up with standard poodles. Sometimes, my professor took his poodle to class. He loved his dog.
My professor lived in New York City. He commuted up the Hudson River to campus. He took Metro North. He had been sick most of the semester. A virus, he said, a flu that would not go away. He was incredibly beautiful, my professor, like his dog. Together, they were a breathtaking pair. My professor had long eyelashes, big eyes, brown skin. Silky hair. He was tall, thin, too thin. He was from Pakistan.
My professor had published a novel that had won all the big awards the year it came out. I had tried to read his book, but I couldn't. A sentence was as long as a paragraph. A paragraph was as long as a page. At a reading on campus, I asked him to sign a copy of his book. Though I had not been able to read it, I told him that I thought it was beautiful.
"So are you, Rachel," he said, looking up from the book, looking into my eyes.
The compliment had come out of nowhere, blindsided me.
The professor was in my house off campus when I kissed him.
We were sitting in my kitchen. My roommates were at the library, studying for exams. My professor was drinking the good coffee I made him. His beautiful dog, Amira, was sitting at our knees, and we both petted her, our hands almost touching. He seemed agitated, my professor, agitated in a way I had never seen before.
"I couldn't get a seat on the train," he said as he entered my house without even waiting for me to invite him in. He accepted the cup of coffee I offered him, nodding as I poured in the half and half. "There were open seats, several, but no one would make room for me."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because of my skin color, of course," he said, bitterly.
I stared at him.
"Because people think I am a terrorist," he said.
"You are a writer," I said. "A famous novelist."
My professor shook his head. "I had to ask the conductor to ask a woman to remove her bags. The trip takes over an hour. I was not going to stand. I had asked her, twice. I knew I should just move on, but I was tired. I am tired today. I am angry, too. This is not the first time. Normally I am used to it, but today, it was too much. I am just a person trying to go to work. I am dressed well, am I not?"
My professor was wearing faded blue jeans, a worn blue button-down shirt that looked soft to the touch. Loafers. His hair was growing long, wisps of hair covering his ears, bangs over his eyes.
My professor had told me once that I could be a good writer if I were to let myself write. Most assignments came and went, and I did not turn anything in. I wanted my work to be brilliant, which meant it was impossible for me to write anything at all. I would be getting an incomplete for the semester, in a class where everyone got 4.0s.