The next two months passed rather quickly for me and every afternoon carried with it the same routine. At the end of class I would follow Brian back to his office and I would go over answers and essays while he silently went through notebook after notebook of work that previously had been read by my eyes only. Afterwards we would talk and then at about eight o’clock at night I would leave him to go to my room. I began to dread leaving more and more each day. The only time there was any change in this was when there was the big student protest that in the end resulted in a few arrests and an overturned cop car. That whole scene was slightly scary for me. I had never witnessed anything like it. Brian was involved here and there and we didn’t meet after class during those strange days. At some point during all of this a great thing happened. I started to write again as I hadn’t done in two years. Poems and stories poured out of me and it renewed my hope that someday I would make it as a writer.
The next to last week of November we took a break for Thanksgiving. Julie and I decided that we were going to stay at school instead of going home. It had taken me so long to leave that I almost feared going back. It was like my mother’s house was quick sand and the minute I stepped foot in it I would sink and never get out again. There was also the matter of our ages to consider. Legally our parents could stop us from coming back if they wanted to. It wasn’t worth the risk. While almost everyone was gone from the halls of the university the two of us got into Julie’s Chevy and went out to explore parts of the town we hadn’t seen before. The further we got from campus the more bohemian everything seemed. There were shops of all kinds with strange names. There seemed to be a coffee shop on every corner and despite the cool night air the doors were all open so we could hear the poetry coming from inside. There were people dressed in styles I had never seen. I knew the beatnik look; black clothes, black hat, black shades even at night, but I wasn’t familiar with the long colorful dresses and thrift store shirts that many of the people were wearing. It seemed unreal that there was this life that was so new to my mind and it was being lived within miles of where I was. I absolutely loved it! We both loved it so much that we kept going back. We would spend all day roaming around the shops. We spent a fortune that week on bar hopping, book shopping, and coffee drinking. The whole thing sort of blew my mind. We ate Chinese for dinner Thanksgiving night and even that seemed new and exotic. The only time I was melancholy was when I laid down to sleep at night and I thought of Brian. I hadn’t seen him since break started and I was startled to find that I missed him. He was the only thing I had to look forward to when I thought of the start of class on Monday.
Monday morning came too early with too much excitement filling the once quiet halls. Whispering could be heard far more than usual. Mr. Wright actually threatened to walk out and give us all an F for the day if it didn’t stop. Being a journalist at heart Miss Smith took a different approach to this widespread secret. She wanted to get to the bottom of all the chatter so she could judge how good the story was. Since I talked to no one save Julie and I hadn’t talked to her all day I also wanted to know what was going on. Finally a pimply-faced spaz who sat at the front of the room said through his lisp, “You know the psychology professor, McVie?”
“Of course.” Miss Smith replied in a way that made me wonder just how well.
“The story going around is that he got arrested on Thanksgiving. No one will say why but I know for a fact that no one can find him and when he does turn up he is supposed to face the dean to see if he can stay or…” The little jerk left it at that but the meaning was clear enough.
I didn’t want to consider the possibility that he may be fired. I also didn’t want to think about where he might be. Most of all I did not want to believe that there was any truth to the story. There was a nagging voice in the back of my head that kept saying it was hardly unbelievable. Brian defied everyone and everything as a rule. All of U.C. Berkeley was aware of that fact from the dean to the maintenance men. How fitting would it be, then, that he stirred up some shit and spent his holiday in jail?
At lunch Julie asked if I had heard and when I told her I had she seemed to become sympathetic which was something of a shock to me. “Hey, don’t get all upset. Maybe when he gets back he will go straight to the dean’s office and prove he’s a capable teacher. They’ll have to let him off with a warning or something. Your professor will be back to you soon.”
Caught between laughter and tears, I hugged her. It sometimes amazed me how versatile she could be. One day she could be the biggest pain in the ass and the next she was the only thing stopping me from melting down. “Ok, since Brian is coming back but probably not before Friday what do you say we go down to L.A. for the weekend? I swear you will feel better about it this time. I will make sure of it. I know you were pretty miserable over the summer but it’s only two days and I promise we’ll have fun.” When I just looked at her she took my hand in hers, puckered up, and cried out, “Please Lizzy, for you oldest friend in the entire world?”
Reluctantly I agreed. It was with a very heavy heart that I walked into my psych class that afternoon. It only got worse when I saw the quack they had filling in for Brian. If I had known about Abbie Hoffman at the time I would have sworn this guy was related to him in some way. He was thin as a rail and he looked awkward in his sear-sucker suit but it was the hair that really got me. It looked like he had wet his finger and put it directly into a light socket. I had never seen hair like that before in my life. To top off all of it his name was Professor Smiley.
I could only imagine Brian’s reaction if he saw what was teaching his class in his absence. Despite Smiley’s eccentric looks the style in which he taught was strictly by the book. Because Brian never bothered with books we had no idea what the substitute was talking about when he began reading from the standard issue textbook. We tried to explain to him the way Brian had done things and he began viciously attacking ‘Professor McVie’s’ skills as a teacher. This did nothing but get all of us in a defensive uproar. By the end of class we knew we couldn’t go on with psychology without Brian as our teacher.
That night as I sat doing algebra in my dorm room I heard a knock at the door. This was unexpected since neither Julie nor I ever had visitors. When I answered it I saw a girl named Anne Marie whom I knew from Brian’s class. She was standing there in the hall twirling a strand of her curly red hair nervously. “Yeah?” I asked, curious to see what she wanted.
“May I come in and talk to you? I promise it won’t take long.” She asked softly. Saying nothing I motioned her in and I offered her a seat in the ancient chair that was across from the beds. I sat down on my bed to listen to her ask something that blew my mind. “A few of us in class were wondering…well…you and Brian are kind of close and we thought maybe you would know where he’s gone off to.”
“What? Why would I…” then it hit me. The implication was certainly there. I would have to be a fool in order to have missed it. “You think I’m fucking around with him, don’t you?”
She looked at me as if she had caught me trying to hide an elephant. “Well, aren’t you?” She acted as if there were no other possibilities.
“No!” I shouted. I was defensive not of myself but of Brian. He had been nothing but a gentleman with me from the start. It seemed unfair of anyone to accuse him of anything less.
“Then what’s up with the after school sessions, Liz?” Anne Marie was not giving up.
“He’s helping me out with my writing. He happens to be the most creative person I know and he offered to read some stuff and tell me what he thinks. I grade papers for him. When I’m through I leave. That is all there is to it. Frankly he’s not doing anything for me he wouldn’t do for you if you asked.”
“So it was you who asked him and he didn’t just volunteer?” She asked, narrowing her eyes.
“Yeah I asked him.” I lied, feeling I had to. “Why?”
“I overheard a couple of professors talking at lunch and I guess your notebooks were found in his car when he got picked up by the cops. They all had your name on the cover. When the cop asked him about it he said they belonged to a female student he was helping out. Now when he shows up here the dean is going to talk to all of the girls in Brian’s classes to see if he has ever been inappropriate with us. Of course yours is the first name on the list.” Anne Marie explained.
I was absolutely blown away! I had never felt so guilty in my life. Softly I asked, “What does any of that have to do with who came up with the idea in the first place?”
“I guess someone told the dean weeks ago that Brian was taking a female student back to his office after class. They claimed he was luring you there, that he had some scheme going on. Privately they talked with Brian but he did so well arguing with them that they never bothered to talk to you. You mean he didn’t tell you about all that?”
“No and until now no one else had either. Who would have done that and why?” I was searching feverishly for answers.
“I don’t know. She refused to give her name but she did say she was very close to you. That’s what the report said anyway. I’m the one who typed it up in the office, you know?” I nodded. Julie…that’s who was on my mind. I was close to only one person at that school. But she wouldn’t…she couldn’t have… “I want to let you in on a secret, Liz. Every girl in class thinks that you and Brian are a couple. That’s why they never try to talk to you. They all hate you because they’re so jealous it’s unbelievable.” I found myself giggling with Anne Marie. From that night on I had two friends at Berkeley but Julie had betrayed me so viciously I wasn’t sure I would ever see her in the same light again.
For some reason I didn’t confront Julie about what she had done, at least not immediately. Every day she would assure me that Brian was coming back and every day I imagined the knife in my back twisting deeper and deeper. Each night we went to sleep with too much left unsaid. When Friday came I was more apprehensive than before about this trip to L.A. and Venice Beach. Despite that I went. A pack of Luckies was in one hand and a fifth was in my other as I sat back for the five to six hour trip ahead of us. I knew by the time we got there I would be bent and I thought it all the better. It was a perfect ending to an absolute shit week.
Six hours later we were sitting in L.A. debating on whether to go to Cindy’s first or stay in a motel in town for the night. We hadn’t really checked the city out the last time we were there and we wanted to hit the Sunset Strip. It seemed unreal that we hadn’t checked it out earlier. A whole block full of bars was akin to heaven for the two of us. One phone call to the Beach and it was decided. We would cruise around and find a room and then we would bar hop until dawn.
For a couple of hours we had the time of our lives! Surrounded by crazy music, crazy lights, and the craziest people we felt like we were really living it up. I was so very drunk yet my brain seemed more affected by the scene than the alcohol. Julie and I happened upon this place around one a.m. that was some ways from both the Strip and our motel room. It was inspired by the old juke joints down south and there were people packed from wall to wall. There were blacks, whites, Mexicans, even Asians inside and original rock ‘n roll was blaring. I’m not talking about Elvis or the Beatles. I am talking about Fats Domino, Sam Cook, Ike and Tina, and music of that sort. It was as seedy as Willie’s back in Berkeley but this place was brimming with good energy. It was like everyone was happy. Julie and I sat down and ordered drinks.
A little while later The Twist came on and both of us where just drunk enough to get up and dance. So onto the floor we went doing the dance that had gotten us thrown out of prom back home. As I danced I noticed someone sitting at the bar that looked familiar. As he stood I watched him and I recognized the walk and the look. “Brian!” I shouted for him above the music. For a second he turned around and then he seemed to move faster as he walked out the door. Before I could think I was running after him. I recall Julie yelling for me but I only shouted, “Damn it, it’s Brian!”
When I broke through the door I looked around frantically until I spotted him quite a ways up the street. I ran harder and faster than I ever had in my determination not to let him go. Quicker than I expected I was stopped in front of him with my hands on his arms to keep him from leaving. I wanted to throw my arms around him and tell him how happy I was that he was there and not dead or locked up but I couldn’t do that. I stood silently waiting for something. “What the hell do you want, Liz?” He asked harshly.
“You! I mean…everyone at school wants you to come back, Professor. We need you there. We don’t care what happened. We’ve already talked about a petition. We want you back!” I pleaded.
“Yeah, well, I hate to disappoint you but I’m not going back there. Your professor is resigning.”
My heart dropped. I was too drunk to have the control I needed to watch him walk away. Looking him straight in the eye I said simply, “No.”
“Excuse me?” He asked, flabbergasted.
“No! You cannot just come into our lives…into my life…and break open these doors and rearrange the way all of us look at the world and then walk away before the damned job is done! It’s not fair! Goddamn it, Brian, it’s selfish!” I could tell by his expression that he wasn’t hearing a thing I said. Throwing up my hands I shouted, “Fuck you, Brian McVie! We all gave you too much credit! We all thought that you actually cared about us but now I can go back on Monday and tell everyone the truth. The only person you ever cared about is yourself! Goodbye.” I started to walk away towards the place where Julie was waiting.
“Hold on a minute, Liz! Jesus Christ, can we just go somewhere and talk about this? Please?”
It was not like him to act this way. Seeing him confused and apologetic was weird because these were emotions that never belonged to him. “I’ve got a room but I have to get Julie or at least tell her where I’m going. Will you come with me?”
Slowly he followed me back to the bar but he politely declined the invitation to come back inside with me. Apparently he was less than thrilled about seeing Julie. I was a little surprised when she handed me her keys and told me she would just walk back. In the whole drive to the motel nothing was said between us. I was able to hold my questions in until I parked in the motel parking lot and then I couldn’t resist asking, “Why didn’t you tell me you got into trouble over me?”
“Where the hell did you hear that?” He demanded, immediately on the defensive.
“I heard it from Anne Marie Shultz. She told me that the dean had some big discussion with you over the two of us meeting after school. Why didn’t you say anything to me?”
He looked at me and sighed. I realized how exhausted he appeared to be and I felt sorry for him. “I didn’t see a reason to tell you. I talked to Dean Stuart and he dropped it without dragging you into the mess at all. That was the end of it.”
“You could have lost your job because of me, Brian!” I said softly. “After that why did you keep meeting me?”
“Because we are not doing anything remotely inappropriate! Goddamn it, we sit in a room listening to music and reading papers! Where is the harm in that? Frankly the way I see it you are an eighteen-year-old young woman. You are over three thousand miles from home, you live on your own without mommy and daddy and without a baby sitter so if we had…” He paused saying in a whisper, “It wouldn’t be wrong and it would be no one’s fucking business but ours!”
For a while we sat in the silence that followed. I was trying to figure out what he meant but I didn’t want to put too much into his words in case I misunderstood. Finally I just got out of the car. As I expected he followed me into the room and made himself comfortable on a bed. I sat opposite him milling over the many thoughts in my head, strange as they were. Eventually I could stand the silence no more. “So why were you arrested?”
“How in the hell did you hear about that?” He asked.
“Everyone at school knows about it. Apparently everyone knows it happened but no one seems to know where or why. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. I was just curious.”
“I came down here to see a friend of mine and we were driving around Watts. Suddenly there were two cop cars that came out of nowhere and four officers got out and started beating the shit out of two young black guys. I swear to you, Liz, they were doing nothing wrong. My buddy and I tried to get out and stop it all. It didn’t do any good but it got them off the black guys for a while because they started beating us with their little sticks instead. They ended up arresting us for assaulting police officers, interfering in police business, drunken disorderly and public intoxication. After we spent the night in the drunk tank they dropped the first two charges and fined us for the third and fourth charges. I think they just didn’t want to deal with the shit my buddy and I could have started over what we saw so they let us go. See, the L.A.P.D. does have moments of brilliance once in a while.”
“That’s not so bad. The dean can excuse that. If you just come back and give it a try I think it will all go fine.”
“They felt the need to search my fucking car and when they found your notebooks they tried to take them. I had to fight like hell to get them back after I was released but I did get them.” He said offhandedly. Then softly, “I guess I could just come back awhile…maybe for the rest of the year. If the dean will let me, you know? I have never been on his list of favorite people though.” At that he laughed in a childlike way. It made me giggle to see him like that but I knew I had to tell him the rest of what Anne Marie had confided in me.
Lighting up a cigarette from my pack I said casually, “When you come back there’s going to be an investigation. The dean wants to talk to all the girls you teach but he wants me in particular. I just wanted you to know that, you know, before you came back. I don’t want you to be surprised by it or anything like that.”
To my dismay Brian only shrugged his shoulders. Then he gestured toward my cigarette as he said jokingly, “Hey little girl, you’d better cut that out. Don’t you know those fuckers will kill you?”
We laughed at that. That was the year that cigarette smoke was declared hazardous to your health by the surgeon general. Those of us who couldn’t live without them thought the notion was ridiculous. I knew nothing about lung cancer or emphysema. Few of us did. In our minds that was just another way for the government to bully us into giving up what we wanted. At any rate the time came when Brian decided it was getting late. Declaring that it was passed his bedtime he stood up to leave.
“You want me to drive you somewhere? I was thinking about going back for Julie anyway.”
“No. I need to walk. You two have fun in Venice tomorrow. I’ll see you Monday morning.” He replied as he left me there numb and wasted.
I had done it. I had talked him right back into my life but for what? For the first time I found myself wondering what good it would do in the end. I could spend four years around him listening to him, talking to him, loving him behind his back but when I was through with college what would be left? There are times in a person’s life when the word nothing is the most terrifying word in the English language.
Just when I was about to grab the keys and go after Julie she stumbled through the door twice as drunk as I left her and in tears. Before I could ask she lay down beside me in my bed and sobbed out, “I did something terrible, Liz! You might never forgive me for what I did but I have to tell you. I cannot keep the secret anymore.”
Now what, I wondered. “Just tell me what it is.” I said dryly.
Rolling over to face me she wiped her eyes and took a breath. “I was jealous. I thought Brian might…I don’t know…I guess I was afraid he would take you away from me or something. I called the dean and I lied to get him fired. It didn’t work but I’m pretty sure Brian knows I did it. I know that other people do. Nothing bad happened really but it could have. I just hope you don’t hate me because I couldn’t take it if you did.”
If Brian knew Julie was the one that called it would explain why he didn’t want to go back into the bar with me. My head had begun to ache harshly and my sigh was full of lonesome thoughts. Looking down at Julie I saw anticipation in her eyes. She wanted reassurance. Of course she didn’t deserve it but there she was, my best friend of thirteen years, wondering if she had lost me because of one foolhardy mistake. “Julie, you are my best friend. You have been there every day of my life since kindergarten. Brian is a professor I’ve known since August. Do you really think I could turn my back on you over that? Now dry your eyes and go to bed. We don’t want to be total wrecks when we go to the beach tomorrow.”
The beach. That reminded me of something Brian had said. How did he know that we were headed to Venice Beach? Satisfied, Julie hugged me and jumped out of my bed and into her own. Switching off the light she asked, “So how did it go? You didn’t say much in the bar but I assume it was Brian you found. What did you say to him?”
“He’s coming back. Monday morning he’s going to face the dean. I am hoping that by two p.m. Professor Smiley will be yesterday’s news.” Giggling drunkenly Julie rolled over to sleep. My mind wanted desperately to keep me awake but in the end good old Jack Daniels prevailed and sleep came happily along.
The next morning came soon but my heart and peace of mind were both lighter as we drove away. Even Venice Beach seemed warm and inviting to me. For the first time in my life I was able to swim the week after Thanksgiving. Alone I went down to the sand and into the water thinking about home for the first time since I left. I found myself wondering if it was snowing at my parent’s house. Although my mother would’ve never admitted it I knew she was probably hurt when I didn’t come home for break. Now as I swam in the warm California water I understood how far I really was from that place. The feeling that came with the knowledge wasn’t homesickness. It was more akin to a release. That made me think of Brian’s speech about surrender. Yes I suppose that’s what I was doing. I was giving over a little bit of who I once was to the woman I was about to become.
Sunday night Julie and I returned to the Berkeley campus, exhausted but not weary. She had the load of her confession from her shoulders and I had my professor back. Monday morning I went through my old routine of taking extra care with my appearance knowing it would not be wasted on the likes of Professor Smiley. Julie rolled over in her bed long enough to laugh at me but I didn’t care. Nothing was going to bring me down. In my literature class I was far more attentive than usual. In algebra I didn’t complain about the insane amount of work. By lunchtime the whole campus was buzzing with the news. The rebel professor had returned. I heard it said that he had been in the dean’s office since seven that morning. Then as I was walking back into the school the sour faced secretary, who I hadn’t seen since my first day there, came after me.
“Miss Sanders? Miss Elizabeth Sanders?” I nodded but my stomach was in knots. I knew what she was about to tell me. It seemed that just as I thought it she came out with, “You are wanted in the dean’s office. I am to escort you there so please follow me.”
Without a word I did just as I was told. I felt like I was about to walk into a battle and in a way I was. I had to prove to these narrow-minded assholes that Brian was in fact a good man. I had to convince them not to get rid of the problem child they all disliked so intensely. When I walked in the room there were three men seated on one side all around Dean Stuart’s massive desk and on the other side sat Brian and an empty chair meant for me. As I sat down I snuck a look over at Brian only to be tossed a warning glance. I got the meaning. Don’t act too defensive. Even though we had nothing to hide, being on the defensive was cause for suspicion.
“Miss Sanders, I am Dean Stuart and the two gentlemen here are president and vice president of this great university. I am sure you a familiar with Professor McVie.”
“Yes I am.” I replied simply.
“Would you feel more comfortable if he stepped out of the room during our meeting?” I caught the look in his eyes as he spoke. The dean had me as the poor little college girl seduced by the big bad pervert professor.
“There is no reason for him to leave, sir, at least not on my account.” I was trying hard to be respectful but I was fuming!
“Can you explain to us your relationship with Professor McVie?” Dean Stewart asked with suspicion etched in his expression.
“Brian teaches my last period class which is psychology.” I replied. If they wanted more they would have to ask.
“Brian? You are on a first name basis with your instructor?” Asked the president.
“We all are. If you ask any of his students what his name is they will all reply the same.” Short and to the point, I thought.
“After class ends what is the relationship between the two of you?” The dean boldly asked.
“The same, more or less. The only difference is the subject. He reads things I have written in my spare time and he offers suggestions for improvements and in return I help him grade papers. From time to time we listen to records. I then go back to my room.”
The dean sighed loudly as if he were exasperated with me. For a moment he said nothing. Either did the other gentlemen in the room. I was sure Brian was restless and imagined he was mentally strangling me for talking him into this. Then to pierce the silence the dean cleared his throat and asked brazenly, “Alright, Miss Sanders, it is obvious I must be direct. Has Professor McVie ever been inappropriate with you in anyway? You needn’t be ashamed. We just need to know.”
Immediately I became enraged. I knew that Brian had to be holding his breath but I was about to turn the whole thing around. “Dean Stuart, I mean no disrespect to you but you have just insulted me personally. What sort of young lady do you take me for? If Brian had been inappropriate with me do you think I would continue to meet with him? Are you implying that I am…?”
Before I could finish he shook his head furiously saying, “No, not at all, Miss Sanders! I never meant to imply such a thing! Clearly you are a girl concerned with your education and focused on your future. I am sure you are most honorable. I am sorry if I offended you and I thank you for your time. You can return to your last class if you would like to. Have a nice day.”
Without another word I left but I never went to my psych class that day. On Mondays Anne Marie worked in the office until four in the afternoon so it was with her that I stayed, the both of us waiting on pins and needles for news. While we waited I recounted for her how I found him and convinced him to come back. She told me how elated she had been to hear that he had returned and she promised not to tell anyone why or how he came to be in Berkeley again. Then, diligently typed something up, she said softly,” You know I think you have a chance with him, Liz. I mean, he did come back because of you.”
“No he came back because I brought up how all of us need him. I was only the convincing messenger, you see.” I answered. Anne Marie laughed.
About fifteen minutes later Anne got a call from the dean saying Brian was coming down with papers to be typed and sent out. After hanging up the phone she practically whispered to me, “He’s coming alone. There is going to be a formal hearing. Oh, this isn’t good. You should wait here for him.”
“But I am the reason he is in this fucking mess in the first place! The last thing he needs is for me to stay here and wait for him!” I tried to keep my voice down but I simply couldn’t. I was angry. Frustration had welled up inside of me and I felt unbelievably guilty.
“I’m sick to death of people who think they know what I need! A statement like that is incredibly pretentious you know? Here are the papers, Anne Marie.” I hadn’t even heard Brian come in. Tossing a folder on the desk before Anne he got as far as the door before turning around. Looking at me he smiled. I hadn’t expected it. My own grin couldn’t help but come forth. “Now if you are willing to drop your pity party, Elizabeth, I believe that after that day I’ve had because you convinced me to come back to this hellhole, you owe me drink. Willie’s opens in ten minutes.”
Looking to my new friend I saw her broad grin as she winked at me. If she could have I think she would’ve shoved me out the door herself. “We’ll have to stop by my room so I can pick up my money and then we’ll have to drop by Professor Smiley’s so I can pick up my work since I ditched class…Brian, are you sure you want to do this with everything like it is?”
Without missing a beat he said, “Yes. You cut class? You have never cut my psych class or any other class, come to that.”
“You have never met Professor Smiley.” I shot back quickly.
After the trip to my room Brian got to do just that. As if he wasn’t on trial, so to speak, because of seeing me outside of the classroom, as if his job wasn’t on the line, he walked right into his classroom and looked his replacement dead in the eye. “Hi, I’m Brian. This is my room. You are at my desk enjoying, no doubt, my leather chair. The students in this room are my students whom you are attempting to teach by undoing all I have done for them, all the while criticizing me right and left to kids who fucking adore me. And this is Liz. She needs those bullshit assignments you pass out. If you could give them to her we promise to be out of here in no time.”
Professor Smiley looked as shocked as I felt. Looking at Brian I saw that old familiar spark grow brighter, more dangerous in his eyes. Somehow he must have found out all that had been said about him by the buffoon who tried to take his place. At least that’s what I figured… until we went to leave and he turned back one last time to add, “By the way, asshole, be sure to include this incident in your testimony at the hearing on Friday. It should make for a good case, further proof that you are far more capable of doing this than I am!” I couldn’t believe what I had heard! That was it. How dare that fool testify against the teacher we all loved?
“That bastard is testifying against you?” I asked.
“That’s not the best part, Miss Sanders. As it turns out, so are you.” He replied sounding bitter as hell.
“What?” I asked, outraged by it all. “How could they take what I had said and turn that into testimony against you? Those goddamned fascist son of a bitches!” I was talking a bit too loud but I didn’t care. Not really.
Laughing unexpectedly, Brian replied, “Just use that trick you pulled out today. That was brilliant! Old Stuart felt like a real ass by the time you left. I was quite impressed.”
For a while we walked without another word. When we were outside with the sun shining bright and the air cool against my skin I found myself saying quietly, “Brian, I am so sorry that all of this happened. Did you see how that old bastard looked at you? They’ve made you out to be a villain and they have used me to do it. It’s not right.”
Sighing, Brian seemed purely worn out by the whole mess. Gently he replied, “Liz, I’ve been through this sort of shit my whole life. Is it right? Hell no its not! I am a good teacher and I more effective than any other professor I have ever known because what you learn in my class will help you for the rest of your life. But that doesn’t change the fact that I am not one of them. Do you remember what I told you all on the first day about Eve and the apple?”
“How could I forget? It is the first honest thing I have heard from anyone in a long time.”
“Well that is an observation made from a lifetime of shit just like this. I am used to it and I know this will pass just like everything else. Just don’t let this scare you or turn you off of what you came here for.”
That was the end of it. No more was allowed to be said on the matter. After a couple of drinks at the bar he had once escorted me out of he walked me back to school and left me on the lawn wondering how I would stand it if he were gone forever. I didn’t see Brian again until Friday promptly at noon but he was never far from my thoughts. Between Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon Anne Marie and I formed a petition with not only the names of everyone in all of Brian’s classes but also with the signatures of a few teachers and some students we’d never met who came up and insisted on signing it. Anne also accompanied me into the massive building where the hearing was held. This was to be the first of many forms of protest in my life but at the time it felt like the most important thing in the world. Before I would agree to give testimony I insisted that every man on the board look at the names of everyone who wanted Brian back. “If you add it up, gentlemen, you will find the signatures of over seventy percent of the university there. If that isn’t enough for you than I will say my piece. But really the message will be the same.”
I was permitted to leave the hearing but once again I didn’t go far. On the lawn we waited and even Julie skipped class to join us. It seemed like an eternity passed until the men began to come out. I must have smoked eight Luckies and bit my nails to the skin before anyone would tell us anything. Finally out came Brian. As usual you couldn’t tell by his expression whether he was off the hook or not and he actually thought we were going to let him sit down and smoke without saying a word. When at last he did speak all he said was, “I am going to beat the hell out of Smiley if he did one thing to my leather chairs!”
“Damn you, Brian, are you fired or not?” I questioned in annoyance.
“Come on, do you think those pricks are dumb enough to argue with over seventy percent of the university? I received a warning about my arrest…” There he trailed off leaving what I really needed to know unsaid. Then in typical Brian fashion he stood and began walking down the stairs. He was at the last one before I got up. I could not let it go.
On the lawn I finally caught up with him. “What about me, Brian? What did they say about me?”
“It doesn’t matter, Liz. Besides, I’m sure you know.” Something was brewing inside of him that made his face unrecognizable for a moment. I thought I had at last been defeated.
“Brian, don’t leave this up to me to guess at. I want to hear it from you.” I said quietly.
“Damn, you are stubborn! They said we couldn’t meet in my office anymore. If they hear that I am taking you or anyone else into my office after school I am suspended for a whole term. The second time I’m fired.”
“So that’s it then?” I asked, completely crushed by his words.
“Yeah, that’s it.” He paused breaking my heart before finishing with, “For our days in the office. It looks we’re moving our meetings to Blind Willie’s.”
I was so elated I didn’t even think about it. I just hugged him in plain view of everyone. Keeping my feelings totally hidden from him hadn’t seemed so important since I thought I had lost him. Besides, after all the worrying and all the fighting I had done I figured I deserved that much. When I let him go he just looked at me with his crooked smile and declared softly that he was glad I was happy. “Aren’t you?” I asked.
“I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be right now.” I wasn’t sure exactly how he meant that to be taken but either way around I truly was happy with the way things worked out.
That weekend passed too slowly for me. So did most of Monday. I thought I would never make it through the day until Brian’s class. Most of the faculty were pissed off that Brian hadn’t been canned. After my first period class I caught a glimpse of Smiley carrying out the last of his things. I could only imagine the glares that had passed between Brian and him during that endeavor. At last the end of the day arrived. I was second only to Anne Marie coming into Brian’s class. Brian of course was fifteen minutes late. Immediately he commanded us to rip up and forget anything we had left from the Smiley experience. After we did as he said he started right where he had left off as if nothing had happened. Sitting on his desk, his legs dangling, his arms gesturing with every word, he broke down people’s need to control others. Considering all that had just happened I thought the topic was fitting.
At three o’clock the bell rang and I stood to leave with all the rest. Most were sticking around to offer their congratulations that he was back but I had already covered that hadn’t I? As I fought my way through the group I saw him hand something to Anne who caught up with me in the hall. “Here you go, Liz.” She said giddy as a schoolgirl.
Opening it up I saw his untidy script telling me to meet him at the bar at four sharp. He added that he would bring the papers and the notebooks if I brought the money for the music. At this I laughed. That day started a new routine for us, one that would last into the spring. By Christmas everyone who worked at Willie’s or frequented the place knew who we were. Although I saw Tyrone every day neither of us bothered to discuss that first night I had come in. I am not even sure if he remembered what had happened. At any rate the place became a second home for me. Brian was more relaxed there than he had been at school. He would order a beer for me and one for himself and he would kick back with his feet up on the old round table just like it was his own room. It took me a while to adjust to reading and writing in the near darkness but he jumped right into it as if he had lived his entire life in a bar. I was in awe of how he could block out the noise and focus only on my writing but he did it effortlessly. At the end of the day he would walk me back while we talked about bar fights and the cons we had spotted. Then we would say goodbye with the university looming behind us.
Christmas break came too soon and once again Julie and I decided not to go home. It was a given that we couldn’t avoid it forever but at least we could put it off a while longer. By the last day before break most everyone had already taken off or they were rushing around preparing to go home. Most of the teachers had talked for days about their holiday plans. Only Brian seemed without the irritating holiday spirit. By way of Anne Marie I managed to ask him if he was staying behind this time. His reply was that, after Thanksgiving, he wasn’t taking any chances. On my way out of class that day I mouthed the word, “Willie’s?” He smiled with a nod.
Since Julie had nowhere else to be I asked her to come along. It wasn’t that I had forgotten what she had done. It was more that I had forgiven it and I figured enough time had passed that Brian would have also. I figured wrong. As soon as I sat down he looked up from his notebook and smiled until he looked over to my right. “What is she doing here? Is she here to be a witness to me luring you? Seriously!”
“Brian, please don’t do that. She is my best friend. She fucked up but it’s all over now.”
“It’s over, huh? You want to talk about things being over? My job was almost over. Hell for that matter my career was almost over!” He responded looking at her with poison in his gaze.
“Please stop it. I don’t want to have to go yet and if she goes I go.”
Looking from me to her he shrugged his shoulders and said nothing more about it. Julie’s intention at that point was to get wasted. Being her drinking buddy since the seventh grade that meant my intention became the same. I had just finished the papers and Julie was off dancing with a man that was at least twice her age. Brian was still reading so I just sat looking around at the drunks and hoping to see a fight. Brian never looked up from the notebook as he asked, “Do you have any plans for tomorrow?”
“Not really.” I replied.
“Do you want to come to San Francisco with me…alone?” He added, no doubt referring to Julie.
“What’s in San Francisco?” I asked foolishly.
With a laugh he replied, “You’ll never know if you don’t come along, will you?”
At noon the next day, hung over and in a shitty mood, I was scrambling around trying to get ready. Brian was waiting impatiently outside the door. From time to time he would open it a little and shout in, “Today, Elizabeth! Come on!”
When I mentioned makeup he threatened to come in and physically carry me out to the car. So in my purse I put my little bag of tricks and went out to meet him. “You were in there all that time and you didn’t bother to put your face on?” He asked while letting me into his car.
“Go to hell, Mr. Professor!” I retorted. He responded with hysterical laughter. “So where are we going exactly?” I questioned, trying to apply my makeup in the shaky old car.
“I told you where we were going.” He looked over at me with a grin.
Knowing it would be pointless to argue with him I gave up. Having never been to San Francisco I was excited during our drive. With the a.m. radio playing one large mix of music we didn’t have room for awkward silences or forced conversations. That made the atmosphere more relaxed. At one point, as we crossed Golden Gate Bridge, the radio cut out and there was only the two of us for amusement. “What are you thinking about over there?” He asked softly.
“I’m thinking about the weather.” I responded honestly.
“The weather?” Cocking his head he looked at me like I had gone mad.
“Yeah, the weather. Up here it’s a lot like Ohio, you know. There are the snowflakes and the cold wind but in L.A. it’s like spring. When I was down there after Thanksgiving I thought about it a lot. It would just be strange to me to be in seventy or eighty degree heat with people shouting, ‘Merry Christmas!’” I almost laughed at myself for telling him this.
“I know what you mean. I’m from Chicago originally. It took me a long time to get used to Southern California. Sometimes I go to L.A. for the holidays and I still get homesick around that time. Leaving is hard to do, Liz.”
This was the first time he had ever mentioned anything about where he came from. He knew everything about everyone around him but he never let anyone in on his life. What was it he said to me? There is a lot to be said for a person who observes everything and shares nothing? “So why didn’t you go home for Christmas like everyone else?” I asked. Looking over at him I feared I had pushed too far. Immediately his jaw grew tight and he clutched the steering wheel until his knuckles were white. A weak spot in his facade perhaps?
“I’ve got a big family, you know? The first couple of years my parents really hated that I wouldn’t come home but now I think they understand. They have my brothers and sisters to keep them company. They don’t need me. Why didn’t you go home?” His voice seemed nervous to me.
“I can’t. Not yet anyway. If I went back now there is a chance I would never get free again. They would all talk and bitch and break out guilt trips and if that failed they could call the cops to make me stay. In the end I would be in a rundown farmhouse with a husband and five kids. Fuck that. Maybe next year…maybe not…I just can’t go back now.”
Once again he nodded his understanding. Then the radio began to play again as we got to the other side of the bridge. We were in San Francisco. I was in awe of the bridge and the water. I was even a little terrified. At first I couldn’t see any difference in Frisco and L.A. or Berkeley. It wasn’t until we got downtown that it all became clear. Brian wordlessly parked his car on the side of the street. Looking around I saw a furniture store and a thrift store. Puzzled, I looked to my tour guide who hopped out of the car saying, “Get your ass out. You are not going to get the feel of this place if you’re looking at it through steel and glass.”
Fair enough, I thought, though my mind begged to differ. Still, there was again no use in arguing. Once I got out and began to follow him as he told me what this building was or what that building had been I was glad I was out of the car. Although it was hard to imagine that the place was about to become a paradise of sorts I was still impressed by it. Already there were people all over the streets who acted strange but not like those at Venice Beach. These people were more docile creatures. Sure, they were high on grass and acid from the head shops on Haight Street but they were kind and Brian and I couldn’t help but talk to them. Talk of changing the world with love and peace had already begun to consume them. By the time Brian and I ducked into a little Chinese restaurant for a late lunch I was enthralled.
Brian seemed so much different there amongst those people and I remember picking at my chicken wondering why he hadn’t moved to Frisco. I never asked and before long we were back on the streets like two obsessed explorers. We went in search of cheap wine as the day grew into evening. A small liquor store was like paradise for us when we found it. Brian insisted on buying it just as he had the dinner reminding me that he had a steady paycheck again. Then out once more we went. Only when we were positive we had left no stone unturned did we venture back to find the car. Evening had turned to night. In fact we had wondered the streets for seven hours but it wasn’t sleep that I thought of. As we began to drive I blurted out. “I’ve just had the best day of my life.”
I didn’t have to look to know that Brian was smiling that slow easy smile. “I’m glad you had a good time. After all that you did for me I think I owed you that. And I had a good time too. You really are great company. It’s just that…”
Suddenly I was tired and I felt heavy with emotion. Softly I asked, “What, Brian?”
“Well I was going to say it’s just that I think I have to decide if I can make room in my life for company.” He was looking at me as he said this and my brain knew what he was saying…or at least I thought it did. My last thought before drifting off to sleep was that I knew exactly how he felt.