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Pushing the Limits(5)

By:Brooke Cumberland

Now I'm the one that snorts. "A distraction? You sound like a cat in heat."

I notice the other chairs have filled up by now and my anxiety  heightens. Professors are usually early, especially for night classes.  But I don't see anyone in the front of the class yet. If they're late,  students take that as a pass and leave class early.

"Well, whatever gives me something to look at for the next four months. I mean, seriously! Night classes are brutal."

"Remind me to partner up with you on team projects," I mock,  exaggerating my tone as I smile at her scowl. "Unless you want to rescue  me and be my partner?" I turn and ask the guy next to me, my eyes  glassy as I take in his deep stare. Now that I'm really looking at him, I  notice he has deep dimples in both cheeks when he smiles and the  brightest green eyes I've ever seen. One of his brows arches as he  stares amusingly at me.

"As flattering as that is, I don't think that's a good idea." He flashes  a knowing grin and stands up, walking straight toward the front of the  classroom.

My heart sinks into my stomach as the realization hits me.

"Good evening, everyone," he begins, and I pray to God that I vanish  into thin air or something. "I'm Professor Hampton and this is Advanced  Art 3. We'll be meeting every Tuesday and Thursday from six to eight for  the next sixteen weeks. If you cannot commit to coming to every class,  you should leave now. This isn't an easy A, and if that's your hope,  you're in the wrong class."         



I swallow hard as he gives a side glance to Ellie and me. Oh my God.

"Oh, fuck my titties," Ellie leans over and whispers.

I sink lower into my seat and whisper back, "What the hell just happened?"

She looks over at me and grins. "Now that he knows we both have a hard on for him, maybe he'll give us both an A."

"I wouldn't count on it," I mumble back, covering my face with one hand.  I can't believe that just happened. I sink as low as I can into my  seat, hoping to make myself invisible, but then he announces we're going  around the room to introduce ourselves.

I'm not sure this class could get any worse.

"Aspen Evans … " I hear him say as if he's reading from the attendance  list. Perhaps it can. I look up and he's looking right at me, directing  everyone else's eyes to me. I feel my cheeks heat and reddening to the  color of a tomato, I'm sure.

I swallow and answer, "Yes?"

"Would you like to begin? Tell us a bit about yourself. Something  interesting. Something embarrassing, perhaps." He crosses his arms over  his chest, his feet parted shoulder-length. He looks highly amused with  his lips curled up in a smart-ass smirk.

I want to die.

Literally die.

I clear my throat and stand up. "Um, sure," I respond with a fake smile  plastered on my face. "My name's Aspen. I'm a third-year student double  majoring in art history and studio arts. I started drawing and painting  in high school. So um … basically, I just focus on art." I smile  nervously. I want to kick myself in the shin for sounding so stupid.

"It's nice to have you in class, Aspen," Professor Hampton responds,  flashing me a knowing grin. He then nods his head to Ellie, motioning  for her to begin.

"Hi, y'all! I'm Ellie. I'm from Louisiana. I'm a theater major with a  minor in art, hence having to take this god-awful night class." She  laughs, getting a few of the other students to chuckle right along with  her. "I'm just messing with you, Professor H." She winks before leaning  back into the chair.

His shoulders cave in as he rubs his eye, hiding his amusement by  Ellie's too honest response. I find it mildly entertaining, but I try to  hold it in. I need this class to graduate and at least a 3.5 GPA to  continue getting my scholarship. I wouldn't be surprised if he flunks me  based on my first impression alone.

"Thanks, Ellie," he breathes out, motioning to the next student.

"I can't believe you said that," I whisper, leaning into her.

She shrugs unapologetically as the rest of the students continued their  introductions. I try to sneak glances at Professor Hampton, but he isn't  making it easy. He catches me every time I look up to see if he's  looking at me.

Shit, I mutter to myself. I was so looking forward to this class, but  now I can't even look my professor in the eye. Every time he turns his  head toward me, my traitorous body shivers in return. I pull my lower  lip in between my teeth to hide my smile, but I feel the nerves and  tension all over my body.

Professor Hampton is looking at me like he wants to do more than just look at me …

Once introductions are over, he hands out the syllabus and supplies sheet. He instructs us to look over it closely.

It's fifteen pages.

"The next sixteen weeks are going to be fast-paced. You want to pass my  class, you better make sure you pay attention and get your assignments  completed on time. For most of you, this class is required for  graduation. So I expect full participation."

"I'd like to participate in takin' off his pants … " Ellie whispers into  my ear, making me choke on my own tongue as I try to hold in a laugh.

"Do you have a question, ladies?" My eyes widen as I hear Professor Hampton's stern voice and see him looking straight at us.

"Well, not an appropriate one … " Ellie giggles, and I blush crimson. I've got to find a new place to sit.

"Perhaps we should separate into groups now," he responds, rubbing a  hand along his jawline and shaking his head. Ellie's over the top  teasing makes me feel just as flustered and flushed as he looks.

Between the stress of a new class and the added attention from Ellie's  outrageous comments, I can feel the anxiety bubbling up inside me. My  hands are shaky and my chest feels tight. It always starts this way and  there's nothing I can do but ride it out.

Professor Hampton is on the other side of the classroom, grouping  students together, so I take the opportunity to slip out before he can  stop me.

My heart is pounding in my chest, and I can barely catch my breath. I  need to find a bathroom and fast before I have a complete anxiety attack  in front of everyone.         



As soon as I push the door open, I race to the sink and splash water on  my face. I place my hands flat on the counter and slouch down, regaining  my focus. I breathe slowly through my nose and exhale out through my  mouth several times before the tightness in my chest starts to ease.  Several moments later, my heart rate evens out and I'm over the worst.

I hear the door crack open, and I immediately jump upright. "Ms. Evans?"

Oh my God. It's Professor Hampton.


"Are you all right?"

"Uh, yes. I just needed a moment."

I hear the door open wider, and soon, his entire body is within view. "Are you feeling ill?"

I clear my throat and wipe my face. "No."

"You ran out like you were going to be sick. So … I just wanted to make sure."

"Oh … no. Just your typical anxiety attack." I try and shrug it off with a  pathetic laugh, but his soft eyes turn intense as he continues to stare  at me. "I'll be fine. I'm already feeling better," I lie with a fake  smile, trying to make light of the situation.

He pauses a moment before responding, "Take your time. Come back when you're ready." I nod in return and watch as he walks out.

If I was embarrassed before I knew he was my professor, now I'm  completely mortified. I hate when people see this side of me. It makes  me look vulnerable, which makes them pity me. I don't like anyone  knowing this secret of mine, but especially someone I want to impress  with my art skills.

I collect myself and head back into the classroom where students are  chatting in their groups already. I stagger a moment, wondering which  group I'm supposed to be in. Ellie eyes me and then moves them to  Professor Hampton. Her lips spread into a wide grin, and I roll my eyes  at her ridiculous assumption.

"Aspen … " His smooth voice catches my attention to the front where he's  leaning up against his desk. "You're in group two, over there." He nods  his head in their direction and flashes me a small concerned smile.

I walk over to a group with four other students. They give me the handout with a list of conversation questions.

"What are these for?" I ask softly.

"He wants us to get to know each other on a more personal level," one of the guys answers, adding in quotes around personal.

"He thinks it'll make us more comfortable to be creative during class,"  Lauren adds with a much better explanation. I grab the sheet and read  over the questions. I hate this part of school. I don't understand why  teachers always want us to share so much all the time. It's like they  think we all need to be friends, but in doing so, it feels like I'm  being forced to reveal things I never would under normal circumstances.  It's like exposing layers of ourselves we aren't ready to give up yet,  layers we intentionally keep up.