MENG 6710 Writing Fiction
Workshop, chapter 16
This is chapter 16 in a book I’m writing about a relationship that starts between a teacher and student and all the complications and conflicts that result, both internal and external. In this chapter, the student, Amber, tells her longtime boyfriend, Robert, about the budding relationship with her teacher. It’s a key turning point in the story which sets off and compounds conflicts to come.
The winding, steep road straightened as Canyon walls gave way to flat, sprawling farmland. Her Civic rolled steadily onward past harvested fields, quaint shops and the historic Logan Tabernacle and uphill toward the university to a three-story complex and apartment 2B.
She knocked. Robert answered. He grabbed her waist with his right arm and hugged her in the doorway. They kissed and she walked into the small apartment. In one corner was a draftsman’s table and next to it a computer. A small window looked out on the valley below, obscured by a towel hung as a curtain. She sat on the sofa and kicked off her shoes.
“You haven’t come up in a long time,” Robert said. “I’ve missed you.”
“Missed you, too,” she said. “Been busy — with school, and work and stuff.”
“Stuff?” he said.
“I’ve been busy,” she said.
“Robert, we need to talk.”
“OK, let’s talk.”
Her hands fidgeted and she began to pick at her fingernails. She lowered her head as she spoke. “Remember when we started college and you came up here and I went to the U?”
“Yep. One more year and I’m done. Hello master’s.” He sat next to her and moved in for a kiss. She pushed him away, both hands against his chest.
“We were worried about each other, about our freedom,” she continued. “We knew we’d meet other people and our lives could change.”
“Yep,” he said, again moving to kiss her.” She pushed him away.
“What’s up?” he said.
“I’m trying to talk. I need to talk.”
“OK. I get it. What do you want to talk about?”
“I’m trying to talk about us. We said it was OK to date other people when we started college. We said it was OK, remember? We both agreed.”
“We both agreed.”
“Amber,” he said, his tone softening. “I don’t want to date anyone else. Have you met someone else?” Stress lines began to form on his forehead and an audible worry was in his voice.
She hesitated, uncomfortable by the distress she was causing. “His name is Ben. And I’m
really confused right now. I just need to talk.”
He waited for her to continue and when she didn’t, he said: “Where’d you meet this guy?”
“At school. At the U,” she said.
“Did you meet in one of your classes?”
“Yeah, sort of. We met in LDS theology class.”
“Is he some kind of religious nut or something?”
“Not exactly,” she said.
“He’s not Mormon, is he?” Robert said.
“Is that important, Robert?”
“Well, you know how we’ve always felt. I mean, look at your own family history.”
“He’s not like that. He’s open-minded. And, yeah, he is a Mormon. I’m one, too, if you remember.” Robert could hear that tone in her voice. She didn’t like to be pushed. She didn’t like to be told what to do. That always set her off.
“How long have you known this guy?” Robert said. “What? A month, two, tops?”
“Robert, I feel drawn to him. I don’t know why.”
He took her hand and sat quietly. He was a thinker. The study of architecture involved math and engineering. His world was formulas, angles, calculations and crisp lines that connected, everything planned, precise and logical. He loved efficiency and man-made solutions. If a problem arose, it had to be worked out methodically.
His analytical approach and anti-religious attitude had attracted Amber to him during their teen years, when she thought anything different from homogenous Utah culture was cool and interesting. She had tried hard to stand out, a rebel searching for a cause.
“Amber,” he began, “we’ve been together a long time. I love you and always will. I want you to be happy, more than anything. If this guy makes you happy, then I want whatever makes you happy.” He was playing the selfless card. It had worked in the past. She had to be coaxed, not pushed, he knew.
His words stirred a softness in her. He saw their effect and continued. “I’ve learned that no one can make another person happy. That’s something you choose. You’re in control of your feelings, of yourself, not him or me or anyone. He can’t make you happy anymore than I can. If you’re happy with him, I won’t stand in your way.”
She thought for a moment, studying his demeanor, rubbing the palms of her hands, then moved close and lay her head on his shoulder. He lay his head against hers and smiled. “You’re right. No one can make me happy,” she said. “There’s just something about him. I’m drawn to him.”
“We always planned on getting married after graduation,” Robert said. “I still want to. I love you.”
“I know,” she said. “Thanks for being so understanding.”
“How old is this guy?” he asked.
“Well, that’s another thing.”
Robert’s eyes squinted in distrust as he waited for her reply.
“He’s thirty-five. At first I thought it was too old, but there’s just something about him. He has a certain charm. I keep being drawn back. I’m sorry, Robert. I don’t want to hurt you.”
Robert was relieved to learn Ben was fourteen years older. Not much chance of that taking root, he thought. “Just be happy,” he said, “and, yeah, that’s way old.”
“One other thing,” she said. “He... he teaches the class.”
His eyes burst wide and nostrils flared. He rose to his feet, leaning over her. “Are you kidding me? You’ve gotta be kidding? Isn’t there some law or rule against that? This guy’s LDS and fooling around with a student?”
“We’re not fooling around!” Her tone was sharp. She stood to face him.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. But he’s just like all the other self-righteous Mormons. He’s your teacher and he’s messing around...” Anger flared on her face. He amended his words. “...he’s dating a student in his class. That’s wrong. He’s gotta know it’s wrong. What a bastard! It’s hypocritical, don’t you think, to pretend to have high standards and then do something like this? Does the university know?”
She wanted to defend Ben, but that would reveal too much. Her honesty only went so far.
“I’m gonna call the university and report him,” Robert said, going for his cell phone on the kitchen table.
“No you won’t!” she said. “Robert, it’s not his fault.”
“What do you mean?” he said, turning toward her.
“I mean,” she began, “it just happened. It’s not his fault. It’s not anybody’s fault. And you will not call the university. It just happened. He’s a good man. He’s kind and logical, like you.
You’d like him.”
“Yeah, right! As much as I’d like a poisonous snake bite! I like him loads already! He should be fired — or thrown in a fire! He should lose his job!” Jealousy lingered in his tone.
“Robert. It just happened. We’re not dating or anything. We just talk after class. We’ve gone to dinner once or twice, taken a few drives after class.”
“Sounds like dating to me! Shit! Let’s call it what it is. Drives? Dinner? Talking after class? Of course you’re dating. Don’t pretend your not dating just to spare my feelings! What else have you done? He just wants to get in your pants!”
She slapped his face. He sat down, his hand to his cheek.
“We haven’t done anything, Robert. Well, we’ve kissed a couple of times. I kissed him first, if you really need to know! It just happened. I didn’t plan it. I don’t want to fight. I just need to talk. I’m sorry.”
He rubbed his cheek. The slap hadn’t hurt as much as the fact that she had struck him. They had argued in the past but never like this. “I’m sorry, too,” he said, “but can’t you see the hypocrisy in this guy?”
“Robert, I just want to be honest. That’s why I’m here. I don’t want to argue. I just want to talk. I don’t blame you for getting mad, but please, just talk to me. I’m not saying you and I are over. I’m just confused.”
He breathed deeply through his nose. The hardness left his face. He took her hand and pulled her next to him on the sofa. “I’m sorry,” he said. They held hands in silence, letting the harsh words dissipate.
He spoke: “Amber, I think you’ve got to choose. Just look how distraught it’s made you. And now we’re fighting like this.” He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close with a hug. “You’ve got to choose.”