Fern looked over her piece while the teacher made his rounds. Today was a writing day for the class, an individual process that their teacher liked to look in on. Their next class would involve some heavy critiques, so they needed to be ready if he could find problems in advance. Fern looked up expectantly. She knew he'd come by her seat within a few moments, and Fern couldn't wait to hear what he had to say.
Fern was a sophomore at Elwood City Community College majoring in creative writing. She'd kept up with her mystery pieces, and so far, she'd been able to hold true to her desires. Her teachers were supportive, but one had a special connection with her. That was this teacher, Mr. Greg. His full name was Colby Greg, and Fern had found herself trying not to write his name into her pieces. They were highly visible by others right now, and she didn't want any of them to know she had a major crush on her creative writing teacher.
While crushes like that were common, Fern didn't want to be like her classmates. One girl had to leave the school because she fell too hard for a history teacher, way too hard. She ended up stalking him after their class together ended, and the school's officials asked her to tone it down or get out. She had no choice but to leave, and Fern didn't want to end up like that. She knew that student-teacher relationships happened all the time, but no matter how strong her feelings for Mr. Greg got, she wouldn't partake in one herself. That was just too taboo for her, and Fern just wasn't up for it.
"Ah, my mystery writer," Mr. Greg smiled, interrupting Fern's thoughts and making her blush. Mr. Greg took up her paper, scanning over what she'd written. He nodded as he sat beside her, passing the paper back, "My only issue is that it's not finished. Are you going to give us a shocking ending like always?" he questioned, a satisfied smile on his lips. Fern shrugged nervously. Mr. Greg laughed, "Well, that's what we've come to expect from you. If you need help, my office is always open," he said, standing again.
He dismissed the class, but Fern couldn't move. Her classmates blocked one exit while he blocked the other, and she soon realized this was intentional. When she tried to join the blockage of classmates, he called to her. Soon the other way was clear, but Fern could tell that he didn't want her to leave. He moved to his podium, looking over his notebook before pulling out something. He handed it to her and sat on top of the desk near her.
"I was doing some writing this past weekend and came up with that. I thought you might enjoy it, so I made you a copy. Why don't you stop by later and tell me what you think?" he suggested.
"I'm doing things later. My mother needs my help staging one of her homes. She's-"
"A real estate agent," he nodded. "Yes, Doria sold my sister's house a few years ago, and if I wasn't already settled, I'd let her find me a good house to buy," he smiled. "It's nice that you work with your mother. I noticed some references to the field in your pieces, which is kind of what inspired this. I don't think there's another class in here for a while, so you could read it now."
"I have a class to get to. I'll get back to you, I promise, but I have a busy schedule," Fern said. Mr. Greg nodded, seeming to understand. Finally, she felt like she was free to go. She immediately rushed back to her apartment, one that she shared with Jenna and Maria. All three were at college together, and though Fern was the only creative writing major among them, they all knew of Mr. Greg. When Fern showed them the printout, Maria was immediately surprised. Fern expected this because she was currently taking a psychology class. What Fern didn't expect was Jenna's surprise. Fern sat beside her, watching her read the story carefully.
Jenna looked up, "Fern, you really need to read this carefully. He's trying to say something to you in this. I mean, just read this one paragraph. Does that remind you of anything?" Jenna asked. Fern did as she was asked. She was immediately reminded of her first class with Mr. Greg. They went to the public library for a writing session, a session that seemed to be repeated in the story.
"I know what this is," Maria said firmly. "The motifs present in an artist's works reflects their own interests and desires. If he's writing about things pertaining to you, that means you're one of those things. Either he's just interested in you or he desires you. For your sake, I hope it's just a major coincidence."
"Same here," Jenna nodded. "Fern, this isn't good. I mean, I know you really like him, but what he's doing here just seems unprofessional. Maybe we're reading this wrong, but you know him better than we do. You showed this to us for a reason."
Fern nodded solemnly, "I did, namely because I hoped it wasn't what I thought it was. You two have confirmed it, and I just...I don't know what to do. Yeah, I have a crush on him, but I don't want that reciprocated. We're supposed to have a professional relationship and nothing more. I should tell him he crossed the line. But if he tells me it's a coincidence and that I'm overreacting, I don't know what I should do."
"If he keeps it up, you'll have to talk to the dean," Maria said. "I mean, you might have to admit you like him a little if they ask, but they shouldn't. It's his behavior that's the problem, not yours."
Fern groaned, "But this could mean I'd have to leave the school. I can't do that. I need this to work for me so I can learn my craft, hone it, and maybe even get a job."
Jenna sighed, "Yes, that's a possibility. Maybe she should just see where things go. If he tries anything crazy, you need to report it, but if it's just pieces of writing with personal and romantic overtones, then maybe you can just suffer through it. Whatever happens though, you need to remain strong. You can't take him up on his advances."
"Yes, and nothing kinky," Maria added. "Just because people write about heated interactions with their college professors doesn't mean you should try it out to see if they're as hot as they seem. And if he does try anything, just keep saying no and get the heck out of there."
Jenna nodded in agreement, as did Fern. She wouldn't let him try anything with her, but she was worried about this entire situation. If he was pursuing her, this could become a tricky situation, and if he made advances, she wondered if she could resist. She did like him before, and now she was even more flattered because he was showing her attention. She needed to be strong, but she wondered if she could.
When she entered his office, Mr. Greg asked her to close the door. She kept it open, slapping his writing down on his desk with a stern expression. His carefree smile faded as he sank into his office chair. Fern thought he knew what this was about, that she was squashing any romantic notions he had for her. Instead, he seemed to look sad, and she was right.
"You didn't like it," he murmured. He sighed softly, "I thought you wouldn't. My genre is science fiction or fantasy, not realistic anything or mystery. I'm sorry you had to read that, Fern. It won't happen again," he said, balling up the pages and tossing them into the trash, barely making the basket.
Fern shook her head, "I didn't mind it, but...it was very personal. I'm sorry, but I can't read anything that personal for you."
"But it wasn't personal, well, not really. You must've thought it had something to do with you because of the references," he smiled. "I realize how that could get mixed up with you, but it was just where the story wanted to go. You've told me yourself that sometimes you have to let the story take you to the same old settings just to get it done. Your classmates critique you for it, but I like it. You always have the right setting for the situation, and I appreciate it even if it's the same place," he nodded. "But it's not whatever you think it was. I would never come onto you," he laughed, but Fern didn't like the sound of the laugh. He was lying and she knew it, and he knew he'd been busted too. He stopped laughing and turned to his computer.
"If I need any help with my writing outside of class, I think I'll see one of the other professors...to surprise you," Fern added. "I hope you're not offended, but yeah. I've gotta go," Fern said quickly, rushing from the office. She immediately went to the student center to find her friends. Maria and Jenna were drinking a cup of coffee, and both of them were eager to know how the meeting went.
Fern sank into a chair and looked them over. She couldn't believe that they were right, but more than that, she couldn't believe that he wasn't being professional. Even if she wanted to reject him, he was just going to twist it, to blame her for thinking he liked her. If she reported him, he'd twist it the same way. She was stuck with him, but she needed her last words to be true. If she needed help with her writing, she'd just go to one of the other professors.
When she told her friends her realization, they agreed that she needed to handle the situation carefully. She needed to maintain the excuse about surprising him, and she needed to spend as little time with him as possible. It was the only way to keep things the way they needed to be, and to keep their paths from having any romantic crossings.
Fern was able to maintain some distance from Mr. Greg for the next few weeks. Things between them in class seemed fine, even though she had gone to another teacher for the ending of one of her pieces. She maintained her excuse that it was to keep him surprised like he wanted, but only her and her friends knew the truth. She was keeping away from him because of how he was acting and for no other reason.
But keeping away from him had other benefits. Whenever Jenna or Maria both had other obligations, Fern turned to her fellow creative writing majors to keep her company. She'd met up with a small group of them in the library. Two of them were busy and always ended up leaving, which left her with the last group member, Lake. He was a junior, but he was also a mystery writer like Fern. They had far more in common than they expected, and after a few weeks of spending extra time together, he asked her the unexpected question: Would she like to meet up after class for coffee?
Fern didn't necessarily want a relationship because of what was happening with her and Mr. Greg, but Lake was persistent. He was kind, handsome, and she honestly liked him back. Soon they were doing on real dates, and after a few weeks of that, they decided to become a couple. And because of their connections with classmates, the word spread quickly that they were exclusive. Fern knew the exact moment the word got around to Mr. Greg.
It started in class. It was a critique day, and while he normally went easy on everyone, today he slammed each piece. One piece was flawless aside from the paper, and he called the person out on it, spending five minutes ranting about the professionalism associated with specific paper weights. It was ridiculous, and the class wondered if he was okay. Fern watched him carefully, knowing that he wasn't okay. He was grieving, almost, grieving because he'd lost his Fern to someone else.
When her piece came up, she read it to the class. She was fully aware that Mr. Greg was staring a hole through her, a dark heat coming from his direction. Fern was nervous, but she what to expect. Sure enough, he went after every detail of her piece, starting with the first paragraph and slowly moving through the rest. Everything was wrong in his eyes, and when he turned to the class to continue the slamming, no one stood with him. They were all sympathetic towards Fern, something he couldn't stand. He ended up dismissing the class with the task of finding more things wrong with her piece.
The class went as a whole to the library, pushing together three tables to discuss what had just happened. Lake soon joined them, draping a supportive arm around his girlfriend. All of them complimented her on her strength, at least until one of their classmates remembered an incident from their freshman year. She quickly got everyone's attention as she rushed to Fern's side.
"You're acting strong for us, Fern. I know you don't take criticism well, and you know it too. Tell us why you're not upset. Come on, there has to be a reason," she said quickly.
Lake shook his head, "Come on, Nan. Fern is a strong person. She can handle some critiques, even if he has gone a little overboard. Fern, you don't have to answer her," he smiled, kissing her forehead.
"No, I do need to answer her. I need to be honest with someone other than my best friends, and...I probably should've told you sooner," Fern said, looking over the group. "I think Mr. Greg has feelings for me. I've been keeping away from him lately, taking my work to other teachers, but he must've flipped out when he heard about Lake and me."
"God, not another one," an older student groaned. He looked up to explain himself, "A few years ago, he fell for this new girl, some chick from Metropolis whose parents got stuck here in Elwood. She already hated it here, and then he started to fixate on her. He worshiped the ground she walked on. It was sickening to watch. I mean, it was like he had no idea other people existed because of her. Long story short, she filed a sexual harassment suit, which the admins shot down, so she left."
"And Fern would get shot down too," another girl said softly. "Think about it. You probably got the clues from the way he treated you, from some piece of writing he showed you. If the admins get his side of the story, he's going to tell them it was all in your head."
"I was aware of that," Fern said. "I knew they wouldn't believe me, so I never told anyone. I just kept away from him, hoping that would work, but I guess not. That's why he's being so mean to everyone, and I know I don't deserve it or anything, but I'm just..."
"You're probably numb," Lake whispered. She nodded and put her head on his shoulder, "I just know that he can't actually hurt me without giving himself away. As long as I stay strong, he gets weaker. That's just how these things work."
"Man, you've got more strength than we do. How are we supposed to hold up against him? I thought Leila was going to lose it over his paper nonsense," another classmate grinned. Leila nodded, showing them a wet tissue.
"Well, we'll just have to be strong together," Fern smiled. "And I'm sure he'll move on, right? He moved on from that other girl, so he'll just have to get over me too. I'm not going anywhere, and I'm not ditching my boyfriend just because he has feelings for me."
"Did you ever like him too?" Lake asked. Fern thought for a moment. She decided to be honest, "I did, but I know it didn't mean anything. He's a teacher and I'm a student. I could never betray that boundary, and it's sickening that he would. Yes, we're all attractive young people, but that's just not right."
Her classmates agreed, but they had to move on to do other things. Fern and Lake had to as well, but she needed to calm down first. She returned to her apartment, focusing her thoughts on a reading assignment to get Mr. Greg out of her head, and to forget the unkind things he said.
Fern looked up to the Dean of English with a grim expression. She had no idea why she'd been sent an actual letter by paper mail to see her, but the dean's expression was just as dismal. She eyed some paperwork before looking to her computer. Then she turned her focus on Fern. She handed her a printed email conversation. It was stapled together, but Fern could tell it was several pages, and each email listed concerned her.
"It seems you've really pissed him off. He's threatening to fail you if I can't get someone else to take you on, but I don't know why he's doing this. I wanted your side of the story, but I don't know what there is to tell. There's no attachments of any questionable work, your other professors haven't spoken to me, and honestly, I just need some input to know why he would suddenly turn on someone he was doting on just a few months ago," the dean sighed.
Fern eyed the emails carefully. The dean continuously asked for details. Had she written something with terroristic threats, suicidal or homicidal thoughts, or anything else odd? Did she threaten anyone by name? Did she write something romantically inappropriate? He wouldn't even provide samples of her work that was perfectly normal, yet when the dean told him to drop it, he'd just reply a few days later with the same request.
Fern shook her head, "I don't understand why he turned on me like this. I started dating a peer of mine, and nearly the next day, he turned on the class. He called people out for things they didn't do, and he tried to get the entire class to tear my piece to shards. It's as if he's jealous of my relationship, and...I think he had feelings for me, but my friends and I knew if I accused him, he'd just turn it back on me."
"Damn it, not this again," the dean groaned. "You're the fourth student to go through this whole 'she likes me and wants to get me fired because she saw something that wasn't there' pile of just B.S," she said fiercely, hanging her head. "I knew it was something like this. You wouldn't buy into it, so he turned on the whole class. Have you looked at your grades? Has anyone?" she asked. Fern shook her head because she thought her grades were perfectly fine. They weren't. The dean showed Fern a roster, "Now this is off the record because I'm fed up with this. Everyone has failing marks. Your score is one of the lowest. You have zeroes for attendance despite a clean sheet, and I just...I have to make a phone call."
Fern was escorted to a neighboring boardroom to sit by herself. She was sweating with nervousness, her mind swarming with thoughts. The last few weeks had been miserable in Mr. Greg's class, but she had no idea things had gotten this out of control. Failing marks for the entire class was a huge deal, and falsifying attendance records would not go over well with the administration. Fern had no idea what was going on as she sat alone, waiting for what seemed like an eternity.
When the door opened, Fern was surprised to see the university's leading administrators. The president, vice-president, and even some other deans joined the Dean of English and Fern around the table. Within minutes of the doors closing, a shouting match ensued between the Dean of English and the president of the university. From what they were saying, this was an issue spanning back ten years, and they were lucky past students hadn't sued for discrimination or a related issue because they'd had to leave. Now that one was staying, Mr. Greg had lost his mind, it seemed, and the printed email conversation Fern saw earlier was passed around the table like candy.
The president sighed, "Look, I know we need to do something about this, but what am I supposed to do? His behavior is irrational, not erratic. Those grades aren't final, so there's nothing she can do until they are finalized. My hands are tied by the university system's rules, and you know that. You abide by them too!" he exclaimed.
"I know that," the dean spat, "but this is a serious situation. Can't you ask him to take administrative leave? This is a huge problem, and I do fear for her safety. He wants her out of that class no matter what, and if she's still there tomorrow, I don't know what he's going to do. He knows I'm meeting with her. He doesn't know I'm meeting with all of you, but word travels fast. He'll find out, and then who knows what he'll do. I'm demanding that you make a decision or I'm pulling her out for safety reasons. I can't let this continue."
The administrators were torn on what to do. There weren't real threats in the emails, but Fern wondered if Mr. Greg was a danger to her. Would he really be willing to hurt her or Lake? She didn't want to find out, but she had to finish out the semester. There was still over a week left of school, far too many days for her to just skip out on. While students did it, Fern didn't want to give him any reason to do anything else to her, such as drop her from the class for too many days missed.
The vice-president nodded to the president, who gave his decision, "I'm sorry, but she'll just have to continue as normal until this blows over. The day the semester is over, come see me. You'll contest your final grade, which should be out that afternoon, and we'll see where to go from there. If you feel unsafe, you can always ask campus security for escorts to and from your destination, and in class, you can use recording devices to capture everything. But there's nothing we can do until we have hard evidence, and so far, there isn't any."
The Dean of English was frustrated, but the administrators were right. Fern would just have to go to class like always. She'd carry a recording device in her jacket, and she would walk places with a friend, but she had to act normal. If he tried anything, then they could go after him, but until then, Fern was on her own.
As soon as Fern entered the class, she sensed the mood change. At first, things were completely silent. No one said a word as Mr. Greg worked on the room's computer. His back was to the room, but they could hear him breathing. Even at the far corner of the room, they could hear his ragged breaths. And from her usual seat, Fern could watch him clinch his fist. They couldn't see his face, but everyone soon knew that he was furious.
When it was time for class to begin, Mr. Greg didn't start right away. The class eyed each other, but no one dared say anything as Mr. Greg tapped the metal bin holding the computer's keyboard. After a few quiet minutes, he slammed the metal tray back in its place. He did it so roughly that the mechanisms wouldn't hold, and the entire keyboard was dumped on the floor. A few girls shrieked as he kicked the computer desk, the noise so loud that it seemed to shake the room.
His eyes fell on Fern, and Fern could almost feel the heat of his wrath burning through her. He didn't move towards her or further away, but Fern knew what was going to happen next. He pointed to the door, "Out! Get out!" he screamed.
Bravely, Fern shook her head, "I'm sorry, but I haven't done anything wrong. Are we having class?" she asked. Her classmates were stunned as they looked back to Mr. Greg. Fern's bravery had only served to make him madder. He moved to the door and flung it open. He was too angry to speak, but his gestures only continued his previous request. He wanted her gone, but Fern wasn't moving.
The tantrum was violent. He threw books against the wall, he kicked the desks, and he slung his rolling chair into the wall. A few classmates took the opportunity to dart out the door, but Fern remained calmly in her seat. She knew the voice recorder in her jacket pocket was picking up everything needed to prove to the president that Mr. Greg was having a violent psychotic break. He was muttering to himself between kicks and throws, and though no one could understand him, that's just what Fern needed.
A few minutes later, campus security guards showed up. They tried to verbally escort him out, but when he threw a few objects at them, they had no choice but to begin a physical altercation. It took them several minutes, but soon he was cuffed, both wrists and ankles, and escorted from the room.
The class disbursed then. Fern told them all exactly where she was heading—the president's office. She'd handle this issue now before it got any more out of control. The evidence was there. She just needed to use it.
Fern learned later that he was stalking her from afar. Every date with Lake was photographed, every trip across campus was documented, and each day in class was journaled. Fern was Mr. Greg's infatuation, and it had been going on for a year. Fern was disturbed, but she had to move on. The school handled everything, so she could get back to her writing, as well as her relationship with Lake. They would remain together for a very long time, and both made sure to let the memories of Mr. Greg fade into the distance. They wouldn't forget, but they wouldn't let those rough days control them.
So this piece is for my collaboration series, Majoring In Love, which covers love stories from the college days of the characters. This is more of a drama than a romance, but I think it works. If you have a piece that works, let me know so I can add it to my community, Arthur Collab Projects, and if you want to see what collab serieses we have going on, check out my profile for details.