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Academic Crush

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Ben settles into the hard chair in the fourth row, yawning a bit. The room is still mostly empty, which is understandable for an early morning lecture. The professor isn’t here yet; they still have about ten minutes until the lecture starts. Caleb claims the chair to Ben’s right, looking all too excited and much more awake than anyone should have the right to be at this ungodly hour.

“Don’t worry Ben, you won’t regret getting up for this,“ he says.

Ben gives him a flat look. “It’s not even half past seven; that’s still deep night for me. Unless this lecture is going to be magical, I’ll probably fall asleep halfway through it.“

“Here,“ Caleb hands Ben his half-drank cup of coffee. “Trust me, Benny boy, you don’t want to fall asleep during one of professor Washington’s lectures.“

“Why, would he call me out or something?“ Ben takes a sip and hums appreciatively. Caleb likes his coffee sweet, and all that extra sugar is going directly to Ben’s brain. He almost feels his synapses firing along the neural pathways, caffeine waking up his cortex and sugar supplying the energy it needs to function properly.

“No, it’s not that,“ says Caleb dismissively. “It’s just…well, you’ll see. The coffee probably isn’t even necessary, but best not to risk it. You would never forgive yourself if you missed out on the lecture.“

“You promised me an experience,“ Ben says, doubtful. “You said, and I quote, ‘it‘s a part of the college package‘ and ‘if you haven’t been to at least one of Washington’s lectures you haven’t lived‘. I don’t understand what’s so special about him. I’m not even in this class!“

“But you’re planning on taking it in the next semester, right?”

”Well, yes. I would have taken it in this one, except it clashes with Greek history. I wouldn’t even be here if my history class wasn’t cancelled for this week. I can’t be at two places at once, no matter how interesting the subject.”

”Oh the subject is very interesting,” Caleb grins. He’s using a particular tone of voice –suggestive, teasing, rolling the r’s - that generally means Ben won’t be pleased with the way Caleb’s mind is going. Namely, to the gutter.

“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” Ben demands, glaring at his asshole best friend. If this is a case of ‘look Ben, a hot prof’, he’ll make good on his threat to carve small holes into each and every one of those wooden ship models that Caleb loves so much and has been collecting since he was nine.

“Nothing disrespectful, don’t you worry,” Caleb reassures him, looking vaguely uneasy, like he could hear Ben thinking about doing unspeakable things to his ships. Either they’ve been around each other so long he’s developed latent mind-reading skills, or he just knows Ben too well. “I have matured a lot since The Event Which Shall Not Be Mentioned, I’ll have you know.”

Referring, of course, to the fated incident where he went to class still a bit tipsy from celebrating Abe’s birthday the night before and spent the whole time texting Ben about the TA’s generous cleavage. She noticed and confiscated his phone. Unfortunately she also noticed the context of his messages and they both had to do some serious groveling before she agreed not to throw them out for disrupting the class. They still had to do extra work, though.

“That was last semester, Caleb. Like, a month ago?”

Caleb raises his eyebrows. “So? My point still stands.”

Ben sighs and gives up. “You’re incorrigible.”

“You love me anyway,“ Caleb says smugly. “But seriously, just wait and see for yourself. Washington’s lectures are notorious. You can thank me later; I accept payment in sweets, beer and various favours.“

Ben rolls his eyes. It‘s just like Caleb to be so sure he knows what Ben would like. True, they had been friends since kindergarten, going to elementary, middle and high school together, but that doesn’t mean Caleb can’t be wrong. Usually it‘s Ben who has to drag his less-than-studious friend to lectures and study halls, but for whatever reason this time Caleb insisted on Ben accompanying him to the lecture without giving him a proper explanation. Even if Ben‘s first guess on Caleb’s motives is wrong, a prank is yet to be ruled out. Caleb was having too much trouble keeping his amusement hidden. It would be just like him to drag Ben out of bed with promises of entertaining and interesting lecture only to watch Ben’s hopes crash as the profesor turns out to be a mumbling, monotone-voiced dusty one-hundred-year old academic shuffling out of his small stuffy cabinet - tucked out of sight somewhere where no student could ever hope to find him - to deliver a lecture only out of lifelong habit as opposed to a genuine wish to pass on knowledge to his students.

Caleb pokes him in the side.

“What!“ Ben replies, irritated, but Caleb only meaningfully inclines his head at the man who just walked into the room. As professor Washington sets his things up, Ben is busy assessing him and trying to guess how good of a speaker he‘ll be. Tall, immaculately dressed, with the beginnings of silver hair as can be expected from a person with more doctorates than anyone else in the entire Pol Sci department and probably even in the entire university. Ben can’t see anything that would suggest professor Washington is still half-stuck in the wrong century, like professor Scott had been. So far, so good.

Then the man opens his mouth.

“Good morning, everybody. I trust you’ve all had a good night’s sleep so you can follow the subject easily. All contributions to the class are welcome, as always. We’ll start in a few moments.“

Ben is aware he’s staring and he probably forgot to close his mouth all the way, but dear God, that voice. It’s smooth as honey and so deep he could drown in it. The syllables fall off professor Washington’s tongue easily, reverberate slightly around the walls of the lecture room and finally arrive in Ben’s ears to create the audial masterpiece he’s listening to right now. The professor speaks in modulated tones, almost as if he’d been taking lessons on how to enchant his students with his voice, turning it liquid like gold and smoky like well-aged whiskey at the same time. The result is irresistible.

Ben turns to Caleb to see if he’s similarly affected, only to find him grinning widely, obviously enjoying Ben’s reaction.

“Well?” he asks, but Ben just shakes his head. He’s not capable of using words to describe Washington’s voice yet. To be honest, he’s not sure it can be described properly while remaining true to the source. It probably can’t and has to be experienced, like opera. Unlike it, Ben could listen to Washington all day, even if he was reading from a telephone book.

Before he can successfully recover to share his feelings with Caleb, professor Washington is speaking again. “Today’s focus is going to be on political theory. In light of the upcoming anniversary of certain historical events, we’ll look for examples in the era of the Revolutionary War. I hope everyone has been paying attention in history during high school and knows which period I’m talking about.”

Washington smiles, and most of the students laugh softly in response. He continues with the lecture. “Political theory is a subfield of political science, which analyzes the history of normative political thought as well as of analytic concepts such as the nature of justice or liberty-”

Ben spends the rest of the lecture in a trance, never once taking his eyes off the professor. When it ends and people begin filtering out, Caleb turns to him with a wink: “So what do you think? Was I right or was I right?“

“I am transferring to Pol Sci tomorrow,“ Ben says determined, with a dreamy look in his eyes.