Doyle awoke to the smell of frying bacon. The odor momentarily returned
him to boyhood summers at his grandfather’s cabin on Lake
Sebago in Maine, his grandmother making her “greasy spoon
special” at the crack of dawn before he and his grandfather
went fishing for freshwater bass. But the feel of silk sheets and
the framed photo of his kids from when they were young brought the
professor back to the present.
Still slightly dazed, Professor Doyle patted the
spot next to him on the king-sized bed. It was empty. So unless
a thief kindly enough to prepare a hot breakfast before leaving
had broken in, Rachel was working the frying pan. She doesn’t
seem like the type of girl who cooks, thought Professor Doyle, reminding
himself that he was Ted this morning.
Ted slipped into his silk robe, exited the bedroom
into a small hallway and then passed through a set of saloon-style
swinging doors to enter the living room. The low-hanging winter
sun illuminated the room through the bay window, bathing everything
in a cold, revealing light. He squinted his eyes against the sunlight
to look out the window and considered the view of the pond that
in the summer was surrounded by lush, green trees which became brilliant
beacons of orange and gold in the autumn. The view, still impressive
even when the trees were skinny and bare, had been the deciding
factor in his purchase of the condo.
“Hope last night worked up an appetite,”
called a high-pitched female voice from the kitchen.
“What kind of appetite?” asked Ted,
bounding into the kitchen with long strides. Rachel, wearing the
spare terrycloth robe Ted kept hanging by the shower, squealed and
threw herself into his chest. Reflexively, Ted put his arms around
After a moment, Rachel pulled herself back. At
six foot three, Ted was almost a foot taller than Rachel, and he
tilted his head downward to fully appreciate her pretty, dark features.
“I love your kitchen,” exclaimed Rachel.
She picked up a stainless steel spatula off the counter and started
flipping strips of bacon sizzling in an oversized frying pan. “I
love the utensils, too. I love this whole place.”
“That makes two of us,” said Ted.
He imagined Rachel’s previous collegiate postcoital experiences,
waking up on tiny mattresses in dormitories and fraternity houses,
being escorted to the cafeteria or getting served toaster waffles
in bed. Ted suddenly realized he should have told her last night
she could wear his monogrammed silk robe.
“So Prof…I mean Ted, how long have
you lived here?”
“About four years.”
“It’s so well-decorated,” said
Rachel. “Almost like a woman’s touch.” A look
of fearful embarrassment seized her face. “Oh my God, that’s
not what I meant,” she gasped.
Ted chuckled. “I know what you’re
trying to say. You can be all man and still be a tasteful decorator.
I was in one of the jock fraternities at Dartmouth, believe it or
“Really?” asked Rachel. “The
frat guys here are such boneheads. When I first pledged the Sigmas,
I thought meeting frat boys would be the best part. Our fraternities
could use a few guys like you.” She paused and smiled. “I’ll
bet you were a handsome little Ivy Leaguer.”
“What’s that about ‘were’
handsome,” Ted said, playfully grabbing Rachel’s behind.
She squealed again and slipped out of his reach. Ted admired her
figure shimmying beneath the bathrobe. With any luck I won’t
get sick of her till finals, he thought.
As a forty-second birthday resolution, Ted had
sworn off undergraduates. He had honored that pledge in the two
years since, until he met Rachel. During that interlude there had
been several masters and doctoral candidates, and even a divorced
37-year-old research librarian with a daughter in third grade.
Rachel was 19, a sophomore. Since the first day
of spring semester Creative Writing 201, she had been giving Ted
the look he had come to instantly recognize. Ted had given in after
a few weeks; taking minor solace in the fact Rachel was not blonde.
They had gotten things started with a discreet stroll in a suburban
park. This was soon followed by their first “official”
date, dinner at a prime table in one of the most highly acclaimed
Italian restaurants in Boston’s North End (college kids who
may have recognized them rarely ventured north of Kenmore Square).
The previous night, highlighted by a home-cooked
prime rib meal at Chez Doyle, had been Rachel’s first visit
to his home. Ted lived in Arlington, only a 20-minute drive from
the urban campus that was spread out along Commonwealth Avenue,
but far enough away to avoid curious eyes and ears.
Rachel slid four pieces of bacon onto a plate
and set it on the mahogany kitchen table. “Sit,” she
commanded, and placed the remaining two slices on another plate
she set across from the first one. “What’s your beverage
of choice this morning?”
“OJ,” said Ted. “There’s
a carton on the top shelf of the fridge, in front. I also have milk
and apple juice, if you want something else.” Ted stood up
and removed two glasses from a hand-carved cabinet hanging over
the flawlessly polished sink.
“OJ is A-OK, unless you’re talking
about OJ Simpson, of course.” Rachel giggled.
“Of course,” agreed Ted, smiling momentarily.
Rachel read the juice carton. “100 percent
organic, no artificial flavorings, colorings or preservatives,”
she said. “No wonder you look so young.”
“That and the plastic surgery,” said
Ted. He paused for dramatic effect, and Rachel stared at him blankly.
He then burst out laughing to let her in on the joke and she joined
him, looking relieved.
“Manly good looks like yours could only
be genetic,” said Rachel, stroking Ted’s prominent jaw
before pouring his glass full of juice. Remaining standing, he took
a large gulp. “You would not believe how many girls on campus
think you’re totally hot,” she continued. “Your
kids inherited it, too. Especially your little boy. You can tell
he’ll have a strong jaw like yours someday. Those are your
kids in the photo in the bedroom, right?”
“I got divorced from their mother about
five years ago,” said Ted. “My little boy did get a
jaw like mine someday. He’s 20 now.”
“There’s a 20-year-old version of
you running around?” asked Rachel. “Keep him away from
me. I might have a hard time choosing between the two of you.”
“Jack is in upstate New York at Cornell,
so I’m probably safe,” said Ted. “But the choice
wouldn’t be hard at all. Jack is smarter and better-looking
than his old man.”
“The girls must break down his door,”
said Rachel, sounding slightly in awe.
“He’s had his share of female acquaintances,”
said Ted. Chip off the old block, he added silently. “But
he’s been with the same girl for more than two years now.”
That’s where the apple falls far from the tree, thought Ted.
“Lucky girl,” said Rachel. “Your
daughter is really pretty, too. I didn’t mean to overlook
her. She doesn’t have your face, though.”
“Ella has a lot of her mother in her,”
said Ted. A parade of memories consisting of bitter looks, sarcastic
remarks, and terse phone calls which never completely left his mind
quickly came to the forefront of his thoughts.
“How old is she?” asked Rachel.
“That’s a fun age for a girl,”
said Rachel. “The boys finally get over those gawky growth
spurts and start getting hot.”
“Very comforting news for a father,”
said Ted, immediately regretting it.
“I’m sure she’s daddy’s
“She was once. Maybe she will be again someday.”
Ted visualized Ella throwing her arms around his neck, standing
on her toes while he bent down so she could kiss him on the cheek,
like she had on Christmas mornings as a little girl. Then the image
uncomfortably shifted to Rachel, and numerous other girls not much
older than Ella was now, leaning up to kiss him on his mouth and
thrust their tongues between his already parted lips. He rubbed
his temple to soothe a pain that was not actually there, but hurt
just the same.
“Can we talk about something else?”
Ted asked, breaking his reverie. “I usually don’t like
to dwell on my ex-wife and kids at moments like these.”
“Fine,” said Rachel, her facial expression
suddenly shifting from awe to anger. “There are probably a
lot of moments like these in your life, huh?”
“What do you mean?” asked Ted. The
acid from the orange juice began churning in his stomach.
“You know what I mean,” said Rachel.
“Do you pick a fresh young flower every semester?”
“No, of course not,” protested Ted.
Charlotte, the 37-year-old divorcee, had been his exclusive girlfriend
for a summer session, fall semester, winter session, and half of
a spring semester.
“But I’m not the only student who’s
admired your stainless steel kitchenware.”
“There have been others,” admitted
Ted. “Some were graduate students.” Unconsciously, he
drew himself to his full height, squared his shoulders, and adopted
a slower, deeper, speaking tone. Ted often employed this technique
when a student insisted on a pursuing a topic in classroom discussion
that he felt had already been covered. “I think it’s
fair to say we both know I didn’t pull the wool over your
innocent little co-ed eyes,” he said. “You didn’t
seem too interested in discussing your short stories when you began
visiting my office.”
“Neither did you.” Rachel placed her
hands on her hips and lifted her head so she could look Ted directly
in the eyes.
“All I’m saying is, I didn’t
force or trick you into doing anything,” said Ted, maintaining
eye contact. Rachel’s face showed clear signs of fear, but
mixed with flashes of defiance that Ted found impressive. “You
knew what was going on,” he continued. “I’ve had
this type of relationship before. But it has never affected how
I behave in the classroom. I don’t give an A for screwing
me or an F for tossing me on my ass.”
“So now I’ve done one, you expect
me to do the other?” asked Rachel.
Ted stroked his temple again. This time the pain
was jabbingly real. “I don’t expect anything,”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
retorted Rachel. The fear in her had disappeared, and indignation
had taken its place, with defiance still strongly present.
Ted dropped his academic tone as unconsciously
as he had assumed it. He did not realize he was shouting until several
words were out of his mouth. “What are you looking for? I’m
a 44-year-old divorced professor and you’re a 19-year-old
sophomore. Are you going to introduce me to your parents on Family
“No,” said Rachel, now breathing heavily.
“But I guess I thought dating a man would be more fulfilling
than dating a boy. So far it’s the same bullshit. As soon
as you get me into bed, you have no further expectations.”
“That’s not how it is,” protested
Ted. “But I’m more than twice your age and I’ve
already been married and had a family. Did you think I would be
less complicated than a college kid?”
“Is that what I am to you, a kid?”
asked Rachel. “Hell, your son is a year older than I am.”
“Of course not. You’re a mature, intelligent,
beautiful young woman,” said Ted, remembering why he had pledged
never to date anyone not old enough to have earned a college diploma.
“How come beautiful was the third characteristic
you mentioned?” Rachel said, no longer looking Ted in the
eye. Her hands slid off her hips and hung loosely at her sides.
“Because I saved the most important part
for last,” replied Ted. Rachel let out an excited gasp and
leapt toward Ted. He reached for her embrace and they initiated
a long, passionate kiss. Ted began understanding, rather than remembering,
why he had broken his pledge.
“Let’s stop fighting,” said
Rachel when the kiss had ended. “It’s a gorgeous day.
I think spring may finally be coming. We should go out and do something.”
“That sounds great,” said Ted. “Can
we finish breakfast first? I’d hate to see your bacon go to
Rachel took Ted by the hand and led him back to
his seat. He thought again of Ella, probably spending her Sunday
studying so she could follow her older brother into an Ivy League
school. Although she would never admit it, Ted was certain she wanted
to follow in her father’s ivy-covered footsteps, as well.
Ted often wondered if the divorce and his subsequent
absence would lead Ella to seek an older man in college, perhaps
a professor, to try and reconnect with him. Did she know of his
extracurricular activities with female students, both during and
after his marriage to her mother? He took these possibilities seriously,
but didn’t think there were any guarantees his behavior would
directly affect how Ella pursued romantic relationships. After all,
Rachel had said her parents were still married after 23 years, although
she had made a point of the fact that her father, a physicist, was
rarely home and hard to talk to.
Impulsively, Ted considered breaking it off with
Rachel, then and there. He doubted he would approve of Ella being
a similar situation, so it was time to stop the hypocrisy. Then
Ted imagined Ella sleeping with an older man, waking up the next
morning in deep admiration of his yuppie kitchen décor, and
subsequently being told to leave and never return.
Ted decided it would be best to let Rachel off
slow and easy, then absolutely forbid himself to date any more undergrads,
grad students, or even anyone under 30. Usually, the younger girls
tired of their situation with Ted after a few months and broke things
off, anyway. If necessary, he could use the cabin in Maine or a
made-up summer writing retreat for an excuse not to see her when
the semester ended.
“What are you thinking about,” asked
Rachel, halting Ted’s chain of thoughts. “Your bacon
is getting cold.”
“I was just thinking about a writer’s
retreat in the Berkshires I might attend this summer.”
“Sounds almost too good to be true,”
said Rachel. “Would you like more juice?”
“If I have too much the acid upsets my stomach,
but I don’t think a little more would hurt,” Ted responded.
He raised his glass and Rachel filled it to the brim, allowing a
few drops to spill onto the table. Ted grabbed a napkin and wiped
the juice off the mahogany before it could sink in and leave a stain.