I sit on the floor in front of my closet, a box I had stuffed all the way back in there beside me, the contents spread out all over the floor.
A smile creeps up my face as I stare at the pictures of me and Iona, my best friend all through high school. I haven't heard from her in years.
When I got back from Europe, we'd met up a few times to catch up, but it wasn't the same as it used to be. She finished her first year at NYU and to my surprise she and Zach, the guy she started dating again after senior year, even after he had cheated on her and broken her heart into a million pieces the first time around, were still going strong. She'd made the switch from Applied Psychology to journalism after only a few months in school and I honestly wasn't surprised she did. Journalism had always seemed like a better choice for her to me.
After that, we barely saw each other anymore. We texted sporadically but eventually the friendship died down and we lost touch completely.
Seeing the pictures now, it makes me wonder what she is up to. She is probably some hot shot journalist in the Big Apple, working for Cosmopolitan or something. I wouldn't be surprised if she had made it big. When Iona had her sights set on something she went for it and didn't give up until it was hers.
Thank God though that she didn't do that when she was crushing on my brother.
I dig a little further down the box and pull out the shell anklet bracelet that Joe had gotten me when we went to the aquarium that one summer, five years ago. I run my fingers over the soft, shiny shells and swallow.
I remember how happy I had been that day. How happy he had made me.
Closing my eyes, I throw the bracelet back into the box, along with all the other stuff I had pulled out from years ago and realize that this was a mistake. Digging up old memories is never a good idea. Especially not when it involves an old lover who now randomly popped back up into your life and turns out to be your professor. That's just plain asking for trouble.
"Hey," I look up at Mel as she leans against the doorway, "Greg and I are gonna order Chinese. You want anything?"
I rise to my feet and grab the box, stuffing it back in the back of my closet where it belongs. "Yeah, sweet and sour chicken, please."
Mel furrows her brows as she stares at me. "Everything alright, Red? You've been quiet ever since you got home."
Sighing, I wipe some dust off my black shorts and look at my roommate. "It's complicated," I respond.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asks as I follow her out of my room and down into the living area where Greg is uncorking a bottle of red wine.
Ever since I told Melanie that she and Greg make an adorable couple and that she shouldn't be ashamed of him, he's been hanging around our place more often. I even spotted them on campus holding hands once. And it didn't escape me how Mel seems to be much happier now that they are out in the open.
"I have a new Business English teacher. A substitute teacher."
"And?" Mel turns to look at me as she hands me a glass.
"He's an ex-lover."
Mel nearly chokes on the sip of wine she just took, staring at me wide-eyed. "Excuse me, what?"
I flinch a little at her sudden outburst and head towards the couch, curling one leg under my body while the other dangles off the edge. "Remember when I told you about that one summer? Five years ago?"
"Uhuh." She nods her head, staring at me curiously.
"It's him, Mel."
"Holy guacamole," she breathes, eyes wide again.
"So like, what are you gonna do?" She stares at me after taking another sip. "That seems like a serious conflict of interest."
I run my hand through my hair on a sigh as I shrug. "I don't, I don't know, Mel. I don't think I can transfer out of the class because as far as I know there's only group for Business English and he's the one teaching it."
"Shit." Mel stares out in front of her as Greg sits down beside her on the couch after getting off the phone with the Chinese restaurant, rambling off our order. "Have you told Matt?"
"No. No I don't... I'm not sure if I should I mean, why would I tell him?"
"Jeez, I don't know Red, because the guy you lost your virginity to has suddenly popped back up in your life and judging by the way you look really fucking messed up right now and were digging deep into a box that I know you stuffed all the way back into your closet so it would be easier to forget about the memories contained in it, it's affecting you more than you want to let on and Matt is your fiancé. He deserves to know."
I know I should've burned that box when I originally planned to a couple years ago. Along with Joe's jean jacket that is also still buried somewhere deep in my closet.
I wonder if it still smells like him.
"I don't know, Mel," Greg cuts in as he sips his wine. We both turn to look at him. "What? What good is it gonna do to tell your fiancé that one of your ex-boyfriends is now your professor? It's gonna drive him nuts. And it's not like you're gonna sleep with him, right?"
My reply is instant. "Oh God, no. He's just my professor."
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Mel studying me, as if she's not entirely convinced of my answer.
And to be honest, somehow, neither am I.
I pause on my way to Bruin Café and turn around to watch Joe walking over to me, a smile spread across his face.
"I wanted to talk to you about your assignment," he says when he stands in front of me. Today, he's dressed in a pair of dark skinny jeans and a white short-sleeved Ralph Lauren polo shirt. He's holding a cup of coffee in his one hand while clutching a folder overflowing with papers in his free hand.
"Why didn't you e-mail me?" I ask.
"I," he starts but then drops his shoulders, "I don't know, Ruby there's... there's so much left unsaid between us."
Rolling my eyes, I turn and start to walk away from him, continuing on my way to grab some quick afternoon snack before getting ready for my next class.
I stop dead in my tracks again and narrow my eyes at him, trying to ignore the way my whole body seems to warm from the inside out at hearing him breathe my name like that, much like it did the other day after class. "Do not call me that, Joe. I told you, you're my professor and I'm your student. That's it. Whatever we had, or whatever I thought we had, that's all in the past and I do not wish to relive it. It took me years to get over that. Years. Do you get that? I just want to pass your class. Aside from that, you're dead to me, alright?"
He's cut off again, but not by me. "Hey babe!" My eyes grow wide as I turn to look at Matt making his way over to me, carrying a small paper bag and a tray with two plastic cups in it containing what appears to be two iced coffee drinks. He's dressed in an expensive-looking dark grey suit, his tie undone around his neck.
"Hi Matt," I say, confused about his sudden appearance. He never comes to visit me on campus, what the hell is he doing here?
He leans down to kiss me square on the lips before turning to face Joe who stands there, staring at us. "Um, hi?" Matt says, staring right back at him.
Joe quickly recovers himself, transferring his cup of coffee to his other hand, trying his hardest not to drop the folder he's holding while he reaches out his hand to shake Matt's, offering him a friendly smile. "Joe Jonas, Business English substitute professor. I was just telling Ruby that she did a hell of a good job on her assignment. Been a long time since I've seen such pure talent."
I stare up at Joe, squinting my eyes at the sun breaking through the clouds behind him.
"In the middle of the street?" Matt questions.
"Well I was on my way to my office to send out the marks and I happened to bump into her," Joe explains. "I'll see you in class next week." He quickly turns on his heels and heads back into the direction he came from, leaving me dazed and confused. What the hell was that?
"I don't like the guy," Matt says. I look up at him, noticing that he's staring right at the direction Joe disappeared into. "Isn't he a little young to be a professor?"
I shrug my shoulders and turn back to face my fiancé. "I don't know. He's a substitute. So what are you actually doing here? And what kind of snacks did you bring?" I try to peek inside the bag.
"I was in the neighborhood for a visit on location and figured I'd stop by to see you. You always go to Bruin Café on Friday afternoon, right?"
I smile up at him, loving that he remembered small details from when I talk to him about college. "So what did you bring? It can't be better than the blueberry muffins at Bruin's."
"Oh trust me," he starts as he pulls out two slices of key lime pie tucked into plastic containers, "it's way better than those blueberry muffins."
I gasp a little, knowing that he had gone to the small bakery off campus to get those pies as they are my absolute favorite ever. Giggling, I wrap my arms around his neck and pull him in for a kiss. "You're the best, Matt," I speak against his lip.
"Careful, you're gonna squish the pie."
"Oh right. Right." I step away from him and pull him towards a patch of grass near Bruin Walk where we plop down to eat our snacks. Matt seems a little hesitant to join me in the grass and giggling, I throw my jacket at him so he doesn't have to ruin his suit.
He sits down beside me, draping the paper napkin over his leg as he starts on his pie after handing me one of the coffee cups. I stare at him, sitting there in his suit, looking completely out of place on campus.
"So what was that about just now?" Matt asks, finishing off a bite of his pie and taking a sip of his cold brew. He'd brought me an iced latte with caramel syrup, knowing it was my favorite.
"What was what about?" I ask, turning to look at him.
"Ruby," he says my name in a warning tone.
"You looked upset," Matt continues, finishing off his pie and wiping his mouth with the napkin, "and I don't know but there's something about that guy that just seems... untrustworthy."
"He's my professor, Matt. He was telling me about my grade, that's all."
Matt stares at me, studying my face carefully.
"There's something about him, Rubes...." he trails off.
I swallow my last piece of pie and look at Matt and it doesn't escape me how my body doesn't seem to shiver anymore when he calls me Rubes.
Because now I remember how it sounds so much better when Joe says it like that.