Chapter I: A Rainy Day
Author's Note: This is a girl-falls-into-Middle-earth story, but it is very different from the norm. I hope you all enjoy it and please review!
It was a Tuesday morning, the sky was black, and the earth seemed to tremble with the mighty rumbling of the thunder. The rain was coming down in sheets, and the wind whipped the trees around like they were twigs. Lyla pulled her coat more closely around herself, trying to ward off the chill. Of all days for her car to be in the shop! The one day she had to walk to work was the day of one of the worst storms Fort Collins had seen in months.
A strong gust of wind whipped around her and inverted her umbrella, making it look like a wayward tepee. She rolled her eyes and swore under her breath. Could anything else go wrong? She reached into her bag and grabbed the newspaper that lay on top of her books. She held it over her head and made a run for the campus. Fortunately, it was only two blocks away.
By the time she reached the campus and entered the communications building, she and the newspaper were drenched. She went into the restroom, ignoring the looks she received from a group of students, and stood in front of the mirror. Her mascara had run, forming dark half circles under her eyes, and her hair and clothes were soaked. She shook her head, and her mouth curved into a wry smile.
I look like a cross between a drowned rat and a deformed raccoon, she thought.
She snatched one of the paper towels from the dispenser and wiped the mascara off of her face. She lifted a wet lock of dark hair and sighed. There wasn't much that she could do about her hair and clothes, so she just decided to head to class before she was late. She entered the classroom with ten seconds to spare. The students looked at her with wide eyes, and a few began to snicker. She plunked her bag on the desk and looked at the room full of college students.
"Miss Sanderson, what happened to you?" one student asked between giggles.
Lyla pursed her lips and gave the class one of her most menacing glares. The snickers ceased and the room silenced, for Lyla Sanderson was not a professor to tangle with. She was fair and generally kind, but one did not cross her and expect to come away unscathed.
"This is what a drowned rat looks like, Mike. A poor drowned rat that got caught in the rain without a car and an umbrella to keep her dry. I would think you would know that, being a Zoology major and all," she said, her eyes alight with amusement.
The class laughed, and Mike turned a vivid shade of red before a smile crossed his face. Lyla grinned at him as she removed her books from her bag. She hooked up the classroom computer and pulled down the projector screen. She picked up the switcher and started the slide show. Her students stared at the screen with bored expressions. She sighed. She really couldn't blame them. It was a three hour class, and Latin was not the most entertaining subject to most people; it took a true language nerd to really appreciate it. A nerd like her.
"All right, let's get to it. Make sure you take good notes because your final is Thursday."
A loud groan filled the room, and Lyla smothered a smile. Her finals were notoriously difficult, but she had yet to fail any student that she had ever taught. She raised an eyebrow at the group of moaning students.
"Now, none of that. As long as you study, you will do well on the test. And, perhaps, if you are lucky, I might give you a few extra points for class participation."
She began the lecture, and she could not remember the last time she had had so many students answering and asking questions. They must really want those extra points.
When the lecture ended, the students tore out of the room, relieved looks on their faces. A few waved at her as they left. She smiled at them and quickly gathered her books. She had an hour for lunch, and then she was off to teach a two hour Greek lecture and a one hour German lecture after that. Then, it was back home for another exciting evening of running on the treadmill, microwave dinners, and translating ancient languages. She rolled her eyes. She really needed to get out more.
After her last lecture, Lyla trudged back to her small apartment. She changed into sweats, fed her fish, and popped a Salisbury steak dinner into the microwave. She started running on her treadmill, but the phone rang not two minutes into her workout. She went for the phone, tripping over the couch as she did so. She answered the phone and was greeted by her friend, Shana.
"Lyla! I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to answer," Shana said.
Lyla smiled. "And how did you know that I was home?"
"Because you are always home."
"Well, it is a school night." Lyla slapped her hand to her forehead. What am I, a teenager?
"What are you, thirteen? Did Mommy tell you to go to bed yet?"
"Oh, you are hilarious."
Shana laughed. "I try." There was a short pause. "Lyla, the reason I'm calling is that I wanted to know if you wanted to come out with me and Doug tonight. He has a friend—"
Lyla cut her off. "No, thanks. I'd rather not. I have a lot to do tonight. I have to finish the students' finals, and I have more to translate from this ancient book I've been working on."
"Lyla, you've got to stop doing this," Shana said, her voice stern. "It's been two years."
"I know how long it's been!" Lyla snapped. "You don't have to remind me."
Shana sighed. "I'm worried about you. It has been two years since Jared, and you haven't dated anybody since. You're twenty-seven years old, Lyla, and it's time you moved on."
"I'm not ready, and I don't know if I ever will be ready. Considering what happened, I would think that you would understand that. Forgive me if I have a rather tremendous lack of trust in the male species."
"I do understand! I was the one who comforted you and stayed with you when you couldn't stop crying. My husband was the one who beat Jared to within an inch of his life for hurting you like he did. Remember?"
Lyla worried her lower lip and closed her eyes. "I'm sorry."
"I know. Just promise me one thing. Promise me that you won't swear off men forever. You are too pretty and too intelligent to be alone."
Lyla smiled. "I can't promise that."
"At least think about it. Please."
"All right. And, Shana?"
"You're welcome. Talk to you later, girl."
Lyla hung up the phone and sighed. Shana was a good friend to her, and she wished that she could honor her friend's request, but she knew that she couldn't. She had been too hurt by Jared's betrayal, and her heart had been hardened against love. She would not fall prey to love's lies again.
She grabbed her TV dinner from the microwave and flipped on the television. After several minutes of channel surfing, she finally settled on the History Channel. There was nothing else but Baywatch on anyway, and Baywatch was not exactly something she enjoyed. She took a bite of her Salisbury steak, and she had to force herself to swallow.
You would think that after all of these years and after all of this modern technology, that someone could make a decent TV dinner!
She picked at her food for a moment longer before tossing it in the garbage. It was just too disgusting to finish. She decided to forgo the remainder of her workout and to work on her translating instead. She removed the book from its spot on the bookshelf. She studied the cover of the book and fingered its elegant design. The cover was made of a smooth dark green leather with golden scroll inlays. The most interesting part of the cover's design was the raised symbol in its center. The symbol seemed to be Celtic in nature, yet it was somehow different. She smiled as she ran her hand over the symbol. Her father had given her this book when she had reached eighteen. It had been in his family for ages, and it was his most prized possession. She had been so honored when he had entrusted it to her. No one had ever been sure of the strange language inside of the book, and she was determined to translate it. It would be a way for her to honor her father's memory. Her father's lineage had always been a mystery of sorts, and her dream was to one day read this book with her mother, and to learn more about where her beloved father had come from.
She pulled out her notes and began the task of translating once again. She had made only slight progress with the odd language, but she was determined, and she wasn't about to give up. She worked long into the night, before finally crawling into bed in the wee hours of the morning.
Thursday finally rolled around, and she could feel the gloom in the air as she entered the classroom. She had never seen a more forlorn group of students in her life. She smiled at them.
"Don't worry. You'll do fine. I have every confidence in each of you."
A few students groaned as she passed out the tests. After she handed out the final test, she returned to her desk at the front of the room and looked at the students.
"You have two hours to complete this test. Please bring your test to me when you are finished. After you turn it in, you are free to leave. Good luck."
The students began, and soon the only sounds in the room were the occasional sigh and the sound of scratching pencils on paper. Lyla began grading the finals from some of her other classes while she waited for this class to finish. One by one, the students finished their tests and brought them to her. Some appeared happy with their performance, others dejected, and some nervous and uncertain. She thanked each of them as they left, and wished them all a wonderful summer break. Soon, the last test was handed in, and Lyla was furiously grading away. She had to get these grades in today, for she had made plans to vacation alone at her uncle's cabin, and she was leaving tomorrow.
She turned in the grades right before the office closed. She smiled. All of her students had passed. Some barely squeaked by, but everyone passed, and that was all that mattered. She strode out of the building, smiling and eager for her vacation. She sorely needed one.