Ravaged River(6)

By: Lindsey Cross

Professor Latham stepped from behind the podium at the front of Hayden's psychotherapy class. The florescent lighting overhead flickered, shining on the professor's bald head. He walked to the center of the stage in the auditorium-style classroom. "And as a professional, you have to realize when a person has gone past the point that counseling can rehabilitate them."

Professor Latham stopped, took his glasses off, and rubbed at the lenses with his shirttail. As he replaced the glasses, he sighed and looked straight ahead. Straight at Hayden. Her heart dropped to her stomach, and she followed it down, scrunching smaller in her seat in the first row of chairs.

She might as well hang a flashing neon sign over her head—warning, a relationship with Hayden James will lead to never-ending doom.

Her only two relationships, if you could call them that, had not exactly led to happily ever after.

She glanced quickly to the right and then the left, certain the other hundred or so students were staring at her, but everyone's gaze remained riveted on the professor.

"No matter how much time you've invested or how involved you've become with a client, at the end of the day you have to be able to separate your work life from your personal life."

Oh my God. Hayden slunk lower in her seat and dropped her head into her hand, waiting for him to shout out, Hayden James, everyone look at Hayden James.

"You have to know yourself, really know yourself, and recognize when you're in too deep. When you stop becoming objective, you are no longer the solution, but part of the problem." Professor Latham paced back to the podium, stood behind it and grabbed the sides. His gaze swept across the classroom, but it ultimately landed on her. Again.

She slumped lower, but there wasn't any room left between the chair and her butt.

He paused, and she was convinced there were lasers behind those coke-bottle thick glasses. She could practically feel her skin burning. Her whole body tensed as she waited for the kill shot.

"That's enough for today. Study chapter fifteen over the weekend. Now that you know all the theories behind the different modes of therapy, we’ll start diving into the actual processes next week. Have a good weekend."

The lights clicked on over the rest of the class and everyone stood, shuffling papers into backpacks and quickly shuffling out the door. It was Friday afternoon, so the other students were all eager for the weekend. They had plans to party. To procrastinate on homework.

The weekend didn’t mean the same thing to Hayden. Not anymore. Her only plans were to work, study, and avoid social interaction.

The long line of students filing down the aisle would take another few minutes to clear. She had to either wait her turn or shoulder into the line of metaphorical cattle and risk being trampled. But Hayden stayed glued to her seat. She didn’t like to draw undue attention to herself.

"You plan on staying in my classroom all weekend?" The professor's gentle voice broke through Hayden's thoughts.

She kept her eyes locked on her textbook. Professor Latham could sniff out sadness better than a bloodhound. "Just wanted to make sure I didn't forget anything."

Professor Latham slid into the empty seat next to hers, stretching his long legs out straight and crossing his ankles. "I know you felt like I was singling you out, and in a way, you might be right. You know, subconscious behaviors and all. But I meant what I said. I’m worried about you."

He had her best interests in mind, she knew that. She really did. He'd done everything he could to help her and mentor her, and in return, she tried to be the very best research assistant she could be. "Why are you worried?"

His hand covered hers, warm to her cold. "Because I've come to think of you as a granddaughter. And I might be closer to seventy than thirty, but I’m as shrewd as ever. Even a man who’s as nearsighted as I am can see you're still hurting."

"I'm fine. Really. I was just having a bad day last month when I confided in you. I needed to clear my mind. But I’ve felt a lot better since then." She'd broken down like a blubbering idiot in his office.

"I don’t want to overstep, but when is the last time you had a date?"

Hayden gave a shaky laugh and pulled her hand away, closed her book and shoved it into her backpack. "I can't even count on one hand the number of dates I've been on."

"It doesn't work if the number is zero. I couldn't count either."

Hayden paused, instantly loving and hating the man. "I'm busy. I work at the Java Shop part-time, and I'm in your lab at least half of the week. I don't have time."

"And what if Hoyt asked you out again? Would you make time for him?"

Her heart froze into an ice sculpture, cold and brittle.

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