“Oh!” she blurted, looking scared, then hesitant on the campus sidewalk. “Uh.”
It was our first meeting since I witnessed her at College Girls Gentleman’s Club. I’d left with downcast eyes. She’d dropped my class.
I wanted to say curiosity — I’d never been to a strip club — had dragged me there with my fellow teaching assistants. That I’d been embarrassed for myself, not her. That her withdrawal from freshman comp had saddened me since she was a great student, a smart people-pleaser destined for success. That I’d fretted about her. That I’d nurtured a crush even before seeing her Victoria’s Secret figure in only a thong and high-heels. That I’d been so jealous for her. That I’d returned to College Girls many times hoping to speak with her, only to find her absence more poignant than her presence.
But I saw the shock and shame from recognizing me in the audience that night still lingering in her eyes. So instead of saying all that, I just asked her to coffee so we could catch up. She had class all afternoon but promised to meet me at the campus Starbucks that evening.
I drank three venti cups of coffee at a table near the door before deciding she must’ve stopped being a people-pleaser. Good for her, I thought at the time, yet all these years later I still wonder if coffee could have been the beginning of pleasing each other all our lives.
– Eric Sentell
Author’s Note: While shopping at Target one day, I heard “Hi, Mr. Sentell” and looked up to see one of my students walking by. I feel strange when I see students outside of the classroom, but this was particularly unwelcome because I was carrying a six-pack under my arm like a frat boy. That embarrassment inspired this story. My experience wasn’t much of a conflict, so I changed the situation and made it a story of yearning and what-might-have-been.