Mary rushed into the large classroom, trying hard not to cause too much attention. The 400-level statistics class was not one she could afford to miss. It was a good thing Katie, her 16-year-old daughter, was so reliable, because 10-year-old Ryan caused more than his share of trouble. Whatever gave her the idea that she could return to school at her age and circumstances?
She slid into one of the back row seats in the spacious lecture hall and tried to catch her breath. Three rows ahead of her, a young man turned his head and smiled directly at her. Yes, I’m late, she mouthed under her breath. These youngsters she was going to school with had their heads in Greek obsession, football games, and where the next party was being held. They knew so little of real life.
Just then, she heard the distinctive sound of jingling in her bag. She fumbled for her phone, but it was inside her bag and not easy to get at quickly. The entire assembly of her fellow classmates turned to stare at her. The professor’s face grew so red she could feel its heat all the way back to the back row.
“Did I not make clear the no phone rule in this classroom?” he said staring directly at her.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she had reached her phone and silenced it. “It won’t happen again.”
“It won’t,” he grumbled, “because you will remove yourself and your interruptions from my classroom today. And if I ever hear it again, you will be removed from this class permanently. Do I make myself clear?”
She blinked away the morning’s frustration. “Yes, sir, you do.” She picked up her bag, with its accompanying computer, books, and now silenced phone. She slipped out of the room as quickly as she had come in.
Outside, she pulled the boisterous phone out of the bag. She looked to see who it was that called her. Ryan’s teacher. Of course. What now?
Mary made her way to an open table near a vending machine in the common area just outside the classroom. She listened to a somewhat garbled message about Ryan bullying a little girl, and sighed heavily. It had been hard on him. His father leaving and she going back to school. Katie seemed to take it all in stride and was a real support to her younger brother, but maybe it was not enough. Maybe, she should give up her dream and be there for him also.
She had just finished her awkward phone call with Ryan’s teacher, promising to make an appointment with the school psychologist, when she saw a young man earnestly approaching her table. She recognized him as the very student who had smiled at her as she entered the classroom. His progress was intentionally toward her table. Now what?
“Hi,” he said as he sat down across the table from her, “I’m Connor.”
“Mary,” she said hesitantly, “What can I do for you, Connor?”
He smiled warmly at her, “I was hoping you’d let me do something for you. I took very good notes in class. Do you remember seeing me there?”
“Yes,” she said, still somewhat cloudy on what he might want.
He was a very studious looking young man, with ash brown hair and twinkling green eyes. Unlike other t-shirt wearing students, he wore a torso-flattering button-down shirt tucked into well-constructed Levi’s, his sleeves rolled up to just below his elbows. But what was his most striking feature was his hands; soft and well-formed while maintaining a rugged, masculine look. Just the kind of man she hoped to see Katie with in a few years from now.
“I was wondering if I could interest you in coffee. I have a couple hours before my next class, and I thought we could go over these notes so you are ready for the test on Thursday.”
“Oh, crap,” she said without reservation, “There’s a test on Thursday?”
“Announced just before the end of class,” he said seriously.
“Well . . . Connor,” she said, “Thank you. I can give you my e-mail and you can just send me your notes. I’m sure you have better things to do then sit in a coffee shop with an old lady like me for a couple hours.”
“On the contrary,” he said, “I’ve been looking for an excuse to meet you. I’d really like it if you would agree to let me buy you coffee.”
Mary sat back in her chair, “Me?”
Her honest response seemed to baffle him. “Yes, you.”
She sat back, “What a compliment. But, I’m old enough to be your mother. In fact, I have children, the oldest no more than a few years younger than you. What are you . . . 22?”
“Twenty-one,” he said, taking on a more defiant tone, “An adult just like yourself.”
“But the age difference . . . ?”
He chuckled. “If there’s anything I’ve learned since going to college, it’s that you’re far happier when you don’t limit yourself to predetermined beliefs. So what if I’m younger than you?”
“Twenty-one,” she said. Her ex had run off with a 23-year-old woman from his office. But that scenario – a man in midlife crisis, chasing a much younger woman, was practically a cliché. She certainly never would have imagined herself getting involved with a younger man. Still, he was very nice, seemed mature for his age, and was interested enough in her to spend a couple hours talking about statistics in order to help her pass a crucial test. On top of that, he had a humble, but smoldering, sex appeal, that seemed to grow on her minute-by-minute the more he reached out to her.
“Take a chance,” he said, “Coffee and notes is all I ask. If nothing more comes of it, then neither of us has lost much, have we?”
A glow grew up within her. The kind of glow that happens when unexpected doors open. She had a feeling it would be more than “coffee and notes.” She’d been so unhappy for so long. Maybe this was her opportunity for new love.
She smiled broadly, a from-the-heart smile. Picking up her books, she said, “Let’s go.”
Copyright 2023, Monica Nelson