The door is cerulean, a bright and vibrant blue, but really it is the color of my sudden uneasiness. The feeling creeps up me slowly, jumps out at me dauntingly, and I am frozen in it. If the door were a mirror – and how I wish it were as innocent as a mirror – I would see my face reflected back to me, and it would tell me to run.
I’m not sure what’s more jarring: the fact that this door is a clashing contrast to the rest of the library décor, or the fact that I’ve never noticed the path we took to get here before. I suppose there are better things to do freshmen year than look for the oddities and notice the details inside the university library.
Or maybe it’s the subtle shift in his gaze that is so jarring, the way his grip on me transforms, and the way his voice now suddenly holds something heavy, concealed behind his hardened whispers.
It seems impossible to retreat now, and even if I had the courage to, to turn and run away, following my screaming gut all the way down the stairs and out the library doors, there is still a part of me that is curious; hopeful; lustful.
Wasn’t dating a professor supposed to feel dangerous?
Wasn’t that how it felt just moments ago when he’d pressed me up against the wall of shelved books downstairs and kissed me, and I thought to myself, is there anything more thrilling than this?
Wasn’t it that same exciting feeling that I felt when he’d whispered into my neck that he had a secret to show me, and I eagerly followed him up the stairs?
I had thought it was thrilling before, when we were nothing but flirty eyes and lingering bodies inside an empty lecture hall room, neither of us willing to be the first to say goodbye. He’d chipped away at his desk with his nails, while I’d fingered it, tracing circles and pathways across the dark mahogany wood, each stroke a question: what would your skin think of this? Meanwhile, our mouths said frivolous things, silly words about the weather and hometowns and restaurants off campus, things that had nothing to do with anthropology assignments. Between those words, our silences begged the other to stay just a little longer, so we could eventually – maybe – use our mouths for other things.
We were testing the waters then, seeing how far we would swim out before turning back. It turned out this professor could swim all the way out to my dorm room – somewhere I’d never seen another professor go.
Let me take you to the library tonight, he’d whispered. I can get us in after it’s closed. His voice had been desperate and demanding, like I could break him if I said no.
I wanted to savor the power I had over him in that moment, like licking the peanut butter off of a spoon. But there was no chance I would say no. I would have given him my heart on a silver platter right then. I was breathless when I said, What time?
Hours later, under a hazy orange street lamp, I’d watched his fingers unlock the double doors like a jungle cat eyeing its prey. I wanted to lunge at them, feel them unlocking my body, but even then, just moments ago, I still hadn’t been sure, that dangerous, thrilling ripple somewhere within me undulating like a wave. There is nothing illegal about doing the things we both wanted to do, just a school policy that both of us treated like nothing but a suggestion.
When the doors pulled open, the scent of the library engulfed me. I read somewhere that the smell of old books is actually the smell of organic matter reacting to light and heat, a decomposition of wood pulp, but really it is the scent of my body on fire. When I told him, he only smiled, running his finger across the spines as he guided me down one of the aisles.
All of these stories dying beneath our fingertips, and we get to live a whole other life just by splitting them open…
When I’d heard those words, I thought he was a sexy young, anthropologic, literary genius, and I couldn’t believe he’d chosen me. In that moment, I was certain I’d let him split me open and read me like one of those books.
But now, there is an edginess to this thrill, a sense of danger that hadn’t surfaced yet, a creature rising from the midnight zone. Hairs standing up on the back of my neck – or is that his breath? – I feel my bones run cold, like I am standing on a precipice, and if I open that door, I might freefall right into the sky.
I’ve never showed anyone this before, he lies, but I barely register his words, my mind lost in a tumbleweed of disregarded warnings; from my mother; from friends; from school advisories; the university campus newspaper: THREE FRESHMEN GIRLS STILL MISSING.
He wraps his arms around my waist, like we are comfortable lovers now, like the one kiss we shared downstairs turned our student-teacher relationship into something more intimate. I lean into it, still playing the part of the brave girl. I thought I wanted that. I followed him up those stairs wanting just that. There is still a part of me that does. Fear has stolen many of these experiences from me, and I’d promised this year would be different, didn’t I?
I shouldn’t take hold of the door knob, but I do, and I hear him giggle behind me. It sounds like victory. It sounds like, good girl.
There’s no creak when I turn it. The handle glides smoothly, and I hear it unlatch.
In another life, I push the door open, and there is a room with a small round table sitting in the middle. It is adorned with a white cloth and candles, and there is a violinist playing a soft, soothing song. From somewhere, a perfectly prepared steak meal is delivered, and we slice it slowly with our knives while drinking wine and slurring out delectable secrets. In that life, we make love above a thousand love stories bound in leather and spend years happily together. After I graduate, we get married and have two children, Olive and Iris. We grow old together, and tonight becomes a treasured story about the romantic night when we fell in love, a story that belongs in one of those books downstairs.
In another life, I open the door, and there is a boring room with a game of chess set up for us on a table in the corner. We play a few rounds, him winning twice before he finally lets me win once. I pretend to love it, and we date in secret for a few months before things fizzle out. Maybe there’s a dramatic ending, and I spend a summer lovesick and cursing his name, knowing I’ll never forget the year I dated my college professor.
In another life, I let the door handle go and sprint down the stairs, running faster than I ever have all the way back to my dorm room. I tell my roommate all about it, and wonder if I let my fear make a fool out of myself again.
In this life, I push the door open, and there is a room that has no table, no white cloth, and no chess board. There is a room with four walls, ones I wish had mirrors on them so I could see my reflection. The realization settling in my eyes would tell me there's a shark in the water, to swim fast, even though I know it's too late. They would tell me the truth: that I might never see the color cerulean again.