Copyright © 1983 Erin St. Claire.
All rights reserved.
She had purposely chosen a seat near the back of the classroom in order to study him without being obvious. It was remarkable how unchanged he was. Physically, the ten years since they'd seen one another had enhanced his masculine appeal. During his twenties he had held the promise of being a magnetic, virile man; in his thirties that promise had been realized.
Shelley's pen scratched across her tablet as she took notes on his lecture. This was only the second week of the fall semester, but he was already well into the topics he wanted to cover before the final exams just before Christmas. He held the class's rapt attention.
The political-science courses were conducted in one of the oldest buildings on campus. Its ivy-covered walls suggested a prestigious East Coast university rather than a college located in a northeastern Oklahoma township. The age of the building, its pleasantly creaking hardwood floors, and high-ceilinged, hushed hallways lent it a sedate atmosphere that appealed to the prelaw students.
The instructor, Grant Chapman, was propped against the desk at the front of the classroom. The desk was solid oak. It had survived over thirty years of professors leaning against it and bore its years well.
As did the man, Shelley thought. Mr. Chapman was as muscularly solid as he had been ten years before. Many a young heart had fluttered when he played on the faculty basketball team against the varsity. Wearing basketball trunks and a tank top, Grant Chapman had rendered the girls of Poshman Valley High School breathless. Shelley Browning included. Ten years had only honed those sleek muscles to a mature strength.
Silver now threaded the dark hair that was just as carelessly styled as it had been then. There had been a stringent rule against long hair at Poshman Valley High School, and the handsome young civics teacher had been one of its most frequent violators.
Shelley could vividly remember the day she'd first heard of Grant Chapman.
"Shelley, Shelley, wait until you see the dreamy new government teacher!" It was enrollment day after summer vacation. Her friend's face was flushed with excitement as she ran up to greet Shelley with the news. "We have him second period and he's absolutely beautiful. And he knows that when you talk about Chicago you're not talking about a city in Illinois. He's young! Government's going to be a gas," the girl had squealed, running off to inform someone else of their good fortune. "Oh, and his name is Mr. Chapman," she had called over her shoulder.
Shelley now listened to the deep resonance of his voice as he answered a question from a student. But his thorough answer didn't register any more than had the question asked him. Shelley was concentrating only on his voice. Leaning over her desk and unobtrusively closing her eyes, she remembered the first time she had heard those low, well-modulated tones.
"Browning, Shelley? Are you here?"
Her heart had plummeted to her feet. No one wanted to be called on the very first day back to school. Twenty pairs of curious eyes were riveted on her. She raised a trembling hand. "Yes, sir."
"Miss Browning, you've already lost your gym shorts. You may pick them up in the girls' locker room office. Miss Virgil sent a note."
The class broke up and there were several catcalls and whistles. She stammered a thank-you to the new teacher, her cheeks flaming scarlet. He'd think she was a ninny. Funny, his opinion had meant more to her then than had that of her peers.
As she filed out of class that day he had stopped her at the door. "I'm sorry if I embarrassed you," he said apologetically. Her girl friends were standing by, wide-eyed and envious.
"That's all right," Shelley had said timidly.
"No, it's not. You get five grace points on the first exam."
She had never gotten those five extra points because she made a one hundred on the first exam and on most of them after that. Government was her favorite subject that semester.
"Are you talking about before Vietnam or after?" Mr. Chapman was currently asking the student who had inquired about the influence of public opinion on presidential decisions.
Shelley shifted back to the present. He'd never remember "Browning, Shelley" and her lost gym shorts. She doubted if he'd remember at all those four brief months he'd taught at Poshman Valley High School. Surely not after all he'd been through. One didn't climb up through the ranks of Congress to become a valuable senatorial aide by being sentimental. One didn't survive the public scandal Grant Chapman had survived by dwelling on incidents that had happened years earlier in a small farming community that played such an insignificant role in his colorful life.
Maybe that was why he seemed so unchanged to her.
She had seen him on television often when reporters were still hounding him for a comment on the scandal that had rocked Washington society. She had studied the pictures of him accompanying the newspapers' headline accounts. Unflattering as newspaper pictures usually were, she could see no deterioration in the face that had emblazoned itself on her mind and refused, even after ten years, to be dismissed.
Shelley was sure he wouldn't know her. At sixteen she had been coltishly slender. No less svelte now, she was softer, rounder, fuller in a very feminine way. The years had melted away the childish plumpness in her face to leave behind an interesting bone structure. High cheek-bones accentuated her smoke-blue eyes.
Gone were the long bangs that had characterized her schoolgirl hairstyle. Now her hair was swept back to show her finely arched brows and heart-shaped hairline. A true brunette, she was blessed with richly textured hair that fell over her shoulders like dark wine with sunlight shimmering through it.
Gone was the round-cheeked girl in cheerleader's uniform. Gone also was the innocence, the idealism. The woman was all too aware of the world and its selfishness and injustice. Grant Chapman knew something of that, too. They weren't the same people they had been ten years before, and she asked herself for the thousandth time why she had signed up for his class.
"Consider President Johnson's position at that time," he was saying.
Shelley glanced down at her watch. Only fifteen minutes of the class remained and she had taken exactly two lines of notes. If she weren't careful, she wouldn't excel in this class as she had in the government class that first semester of her junior year.
She recalled a cold windy day after that season's first norther.
"Would you consider helping me grade papers a few afternoons a week?" he had asked.
She was wearing her current boyfriend's letter jacket and her hands were tightly balled into fists inside the deep pockets. Mr. Chapman had stopped her in the courtyard between the gym and the classroom building.
His collar-length hair, a shade too long to meet the code, was whipping wildly around his head. Wearing only his sportcoat, he was hunched against the north wind.
"Of course if you'd rather not, just tell" "No, no," she rushed to say and licked her lips, hoping they weren't chapped and dry-looking. "Yes, I'd like to. If you think I can."
"You're my champion student. That was a super report you did on the judicial system."
"Thank you." She was flustered and wondered why her heart was pounding so. He was just a teacher. Well, not just a teacher.
"If you can grade the objective parts of the tests, I'll read the essays. It'll save me hours of time in the evenings."
She had wondered then what he did in the evenings. Did he see a woman? That had been the topic of speculation at many a slumber party. She'd never seen him in town with anyone.
One night when her family had gone to the Wagon-wheel steak house to eat dinner he was there. Alone. When he'd spoken to her, she'd nearly died. She stumbled through introductions to her parents and he'd stood up to shake hands with her father. After they were seated her little brother had spilled his milk and she could have gladly strangled him. When she hazarded a glance toward Mr. Chapman's table, he had left.
"Okay. What days?"
He squinted his eyes against the sunlight, which was bright in spite of the cold. She could never quite decide if his eyes were gray or green or somewhere in between, but she liked the way his dark lashes curled up when his eyes were narrowed that way. "You tell me." He laughed.
"Well, I have cheerleading practice on Thursday because of the pep rallies on Fridays." Stupid! He knows when the pep rallies are. "I take piano on Tuesday." What does he care, Shelley? "I guess Monday and Wednesday would be best."
"That'll be fine," he said. "Whew, it's cold. Let's get inside."
She had nearly tripped over her own stumbling feet when he unexpectedly took her elbow and escorted her to the door of the building. By the time the metal door clanged shut behind them, she thought she might very well faint because he'd touched her. She never told any of her girl friends about that. At the time, it was too precious a secret to tell.
The afternoons spent quietly in his classroom became the pivot around which the rest of her life revolved. She agonized on the days she didn't go, and she agonized on the days she did until the last bell of the day rang. She tried not to rush through the emptying halls to his classroom, but was often breathless when she arrived. Sometimes he wasn't there, but had left her a stack of papers with instructions. She went about grading her classmates' work with a diligence she'd never applied to anything else in her life. Often when he joined her, he'd bring her a soda.
One day as she sat checking the papers with the red pencil he'd given her, he stood up from his desk, where he was reading through an indecipherable composition. He peeled the V-necked sweater he wore over his head. "I think they've got the heat too high in here. This school isn't doing its part to conserve energy."
At the time, she couldn't even admire his patriotic conscientiousness, for she was dazzled by him. He linked his fingers, turned his hands outward and stretched his arms high over his head, arching his back. She was spellbound by the play of muscles under his soft cotton shirt. He released his breath in a healthy sigh as he lowered his arms and rolled his shoulders in an effort to relax them.
Shelley dropped the red pencil, her fingers suddenly useless. Had her skin not been holding her together, she thought she would have melted over the desk. She became aware of a stifling heat that had nothing to do with the thermostat on the wall.
She left his classroom that day bewildered. Much as she wanted to be near him, she suddenly felt compelled to escape. But there was no escaping this assault on her emotions because the tumult was within herself. It was totally new and different and nothing in her dating experiences had prepared her for it. She couldn't identify it then. Only later, when she was older, was she able to define what she had felt that afternoon: desire.
During those days of late fall, he never treated her with anything but open friendliness. When her boyfriend picked her up after football practice to drive her home in his reconditioned Cougar, Mr. Chapman called, "Have fun," to them as they left.
"Before next session you might want to read the first three chapters of the textbook. It's boring as hell, but it will give you good background information."
Shelley was yanked out of her revery by his words. He had one hip hitched over the edge of the desk, a posture that blatantly declared his sex. Shelley doubted that any woman in the room was immune to his overwhelming sexuality. A woman would have to be blind or senile not to be affected, and glancing around, Shelley saw none that fit that description.
Rather, she saw that the female members of the class were all in their late teens or early twenties. High firm breasts jutted braless under T-shirts, and well-shaped, athletic thighs were encased in tight designer jeans. There were skeins of long carelessly styled hair in varying shades of brown, auburn, and gold. She felt old and dowdy by comparison.
As you are, Shelley, she reminded herself. She was wearing a sweater, cranberry in color, and she wore a bra beneath it. The sweater matched her textured hose and complemented the mid-calf-length gray wool skirt. At least she knew how to dress fashionably and wasn't consigned to the polyester setyet.
At twenty-six she was second oldest in the class. A serious gray-haired gentleman was seated in the front row. He had taken copious notes while the young man in the cowboy hat sitting next to Shelley had peacefully napped during the entire hour.
"Good-bye," Mr. Chapman said when the bell rang. "Oh yes, would Mrs. Robins please stop by the desk?" History was repeating itself.
Shelley all but dropped the armload of books she was gathering up when he made his request. Less interested than the classmates at Poshman Valley had been, the forty or so other students filed out of the classroom, most of them intent on lighting up their first cigarette in over an hour.
Head down, she concentrated on weaving her way through the maze of desks, less ordered than the neat rows in his classroom ten years ago. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the last student leave the room. Negligently he let the door close solidly behind him. She stifled the insane impulse to ask him to please leave it open.
When she was a few feet away from his desk, when she had run out of excuses not to look at him, she lifted the screen of dark lashes from her eyes and met Grant Chapman's gaze fully for the first time in ten years.
She gasped. Or at least she felt the soft gasp rise to her throat and only hoped later that she had caught it in time. "Hello, Mr. Chapman."
A chuckle formed in his throat, but he, too, stopped it before it made a sound. His wide, sensually molded lips smiled easily, but his eyes were busy taking an inventory of her face. They took note of her hair, the unknowingly vulnerable eyes, the slender elegance of her nose, her lips. He studied her lips for a long time, and when her tongue came out nervously to moisten them, she cursed it for doing so.
It was dangerously still and quiet in the room. He had come away from the desk to stand directly in front of her. He had always seemed so overwhelmingly tall. Not frighteningly so, but protectively so.
"I... I didn't think you'd know me."
"I knew you the first day you came to class." Standing close like this, his voice sounded huskier. When he projected it during one of his lectures, it lost the intimate pitch that was now wreaking havoc on her equilibrium. "I was starting to wonder if you were going to go through the entire semester without even saying hello."
Ten years of maturity were swept away by his gentle teasing and she felt as young and callow as the first day she met him.
"I didn't want to embarrass you by speaking and having you struggle to remember me. That would have put you in an awkward position."
"I appreciate your concern, but it was unnecessary. I remember you well." He continued to peruse her face analytically and she wondered if he thought the years had embellished or detracted from her features. She herself didn't feel that she had become less attractive or more so; she only knew she was different from the girl who had so painstakingly graded his papers.
Had he known about her infatuation for him? Had he discussed it with a lady friend? "You should see her, sitting there so prim and proper, her hands perspiring. Every time I move, she jumps like a scared rabbit." She imagined him shaking his head ruefully and laughing.
He routed her out of her unpleasant musing by speaking her name as though he'd had to repeat it several times.
"Yes?" she asked breathlessly. Why was oxygen suddenly so scarce?
"I asked how long you've been Mrs. Robins."
"Oh, uh, seven years. But then I haven't been Mrs. Robins for two years."
His brows, which were a trifle shaggy and thoroughly masculine, lifted in silent query.
"It's a long, boring story." She glanced down at the toe of her flat-heeled cordovan shoe. "Dr. Robins and I parted company two years ago. That's when I decided to go back to school."
"But this is an undergraduate course."
Had any other man worn jeans and western boots with a sportcoat he would have looked as though he were imitating a film star, but Grant Chapman looked absolutely devastating. Did it have anything to do with the open throat of his plaid cotton shirt, which revealed a dark wedge of chest hair?
She forced her eyes away from it to answer him. "That's what I am. An undergraduate, I mean." She had no idea how delectable her mouth looked when she smiled naturally. For the last few years smiles hadn't come easily. But when they did, the weariness that had been etched on her face by unhappiness was relieved, and her lips tilted at the corners and were punctuated with shallow dimples.
Grant Chapman seemed intrigued by those indentations at either side of her mouth. It took him a long time to reply. "I would have thought that since you were such a good student, you would have gone to college as soon as you graduated from Poshman Valley."
"I did. I went to the University of Oklahoma, but..." She glanced away as she remembered her first semester in Norman and how meeting Daryl Robins had changed the course of her life. "Things happen," she finished lamely.
"How are things in Poshman Valley? I haven't been back since I left. God, that's been..."
"Ten years," she supplied immediately and then wanted to bite her tongue. She sounded like a good little girl giving her teacher the correct answer. "Something like that," she added with deliberate casualness.
"Yes, because I went to Washington directly from there. I left before the year was up."
Self-defensively she averted her eyes. The next hour of afternoon classes must have begun. Only a few students drifted by on the sidewalks outside the multipaned windows.
She couldn't talk about his leaving. He wouldn't remember, and she had tried for ten years to forget. "Things in Poshman Valley never change. I get back fairly often to see my folks. They still live there. My brother is teaching math and coaching football at the junior high."
"No kidding!" He laughed.
"Yes. He's married and has two children." She adjusted her armload of heavy books into a more comfortable position against her breasts. When he saw the gesture, he leaned forward to take them from her and set them on the desk behind him. That left her without anything to do with her hands, so she folded them awkwardly across her waist, hoping he wouldn't guess how exposed she felt.
"Do you live here in Cedarwood?"
"Yes. Since I'm going to school full-time, I rented a small house."
"An older one?" "How did you know?"
"There are a lot of them here. It's a very quaint little town. Reminds me of Georgetown. I lived there the last few years I was in Washington."
"Oh." She felt terribly gauche. He had hobnobbed with the elite, the beautiful, the powerful. How provincial she must seem to him.
She made a move to retrieve her books. "I don't want to keep you"
"You're not. I'm finished for the day. As a matter of fact, I was going to get a cup of coffee somewhere. Would you join me?"
Her heart pounded furiously. "No, thank you, Mr. Chapman, I"
His laughter stymied her objection. "Really, Shelley, I think you can call me by my first name. You're not in high school any longer."
"No, but you're still my teacher," she reminded him, slightly perturbed that he had laughed at her.
"And I'm delighted to be. You decorate my classroom. Now more than ever." She wished he had kept laughing. That was easier to handle than his intent scrutiny of her features. "But, please, don't categorize me as a college professor. The word 'professor' conjures up a picture of an absentminded old man with a headful of wild white hair searching through the pockets of his baggy tweed coat for the eyeglasses perched on top of his head."
She laughed easily. "Maybe you should try teaching creative writing. That was a very graphic word picture you painted."
"Then you get my point. Make it Grant, please." "I'll try," was all she would promise. "Try it out."
She felt like a three-year-old about to recite "Mary Had a Little Lamb" for the first time. "Really, I" "Try it," he insisted.
"Very well." She sighed. "Grant." The name came more easily to her tongue than she had imagined. In all her fantasies over the past ten years, had she called him by his first name? "Grant, Grant," she repeated.
"See? See how much better that is? Now, how about coffee? You don't have another class do you? Even if you do, you're late, so..."
Still she hesitated. "I don't"
"Unless you'd rather not be seen with me." His change of tone brought her eyes flying up to his. The words had been spoken quietly, but there was a trace of bitterness lying just below the surface.
She caught his meaning instantly. "You mean because of what happened in Washington?" When he answered by silently piercing her with those gray-green eyes, she shook her head vehemently. "No, no, of course not, Mr....Grant. That has nothing to do with it."
She was touched that his relief was so apparent. "Good." He raked strong, lean fingers through his hair. "Let's go for coffee."
Had the look in his eyes and that boyishly vulnerable gesture not compelled her to go with him, the urgency behind his words would have. "All right," she heard herself say before a conscious decision was made.
He smiled, turned to pick up her stack of books and his own folder of notes, and propelled her toward the door. When they reached it, he leaned across her back to switch off the lights. She was aware of his arm resting fleetingly on her back and held her breath.
For an instant, his hand closed around the base of her neck before sliding to the middle of her back. Though the gesture was nothing more than common courtesy, she was acutely aware of his hand through the knit of her sweater as they walked across the campus.
Hal's, that microcosm of society that is on every college campus in the country, was noisy, smoky, crowded. Neil Diamond was lamenting his loneliness from the speakers strategically embedded in the ceiling. Waiters with red satin armbands on their long white sleeves were carrying pitchers of draft beer to cluttered tables. Students of every description, from preppies and sorority girls to bearded intellectuals to muscled jocks, were smelted together in convivial confusion.
Grant took her arm and steered her to a relatively private table in the dim far corner of the tavern. Having secured them their seats, he leaned across the table and said in a stage whisper, "I hope I don't have to show my I.D." At her puzzled frown he explained, "I don't think anyone over thirty would be welcomed in here." Then, at her laughing expression, he clapped his hand to his forehead, "By God, you're not even thirty, are you? Why do I suddenly feel more and more like our white-haired, doddering professor?"
When the waiter came whizzing by, Grant slowed him long enough to call, "Two coffees."
"Cream?" the fleeing waiter asked over his shoulder. "Cream?" Grant asked her. She nodded. "Cream," he shouted to the waiter. "You weren't even old enough to drink coffee the last time I saw you, were you?" he asked her.
Not really listening to his question, she shook her head. She was having a hard time keeping herself from staring at him. His hair was attractively windblown. The open "V" of his shirt continued to bemuse her. Daryl Robins had thought himself the epitome of masculinity, yet his chest had had only a sprinkling of pale hair in the center, while this was a veritable forest growing from darkly tanned skin. An urge to reach out and touch it with her fingertips was so powerful, she looked away.
One glance around the room confirmed what she had suspected. Coeds were eyeing Grant with the unconcealed sexual interest of the modern woman. She was the subject of their cool appraisal. Grant Chapman was a celebrity in a notorious, dangerous way, with the kind of reputation no woman could resist being curious about. Shelley had tried to ignore the ripple of attention that their arrival had created, but the bold stares being directed toward them now were most disconcerting.
"You get used to it," he said softly after a moment. "Do you?"
"No, you don't really get used to it, you just learn to live with it and ignore it if you can." He twirled a glass ashtray on the highly glazed wooden tabletop. "That's only one consequence of having your face in the news every day for several months. Whether you're the good guy or the bad guy, the culprit or the victim, guilty or innocent, notoriety shadows you. Nothing you do is private anymore."
She didn't say anything until after the harried waiter had served them their coffee. Shelley stirred cream into her cup and said gently, "They'll get accustomed to seeing you around. News that you'd be joining the faculty this fall spread through the campus like wildfire last spring. Once you're here for a while, the excitement will die down."
"My classes filled up quickly. I don't find that flattering. I realize most of the students who registered for them did so out of curiosity. I saw the cowboy sitting next to you sleeping today."
She smiled, glad that he didn't have that intense, guarded expression on his face any longer. "I don't think he appreciated the finer points of your lecture."
Grant returned her smile briefly and then gazed at her earnestly, searching the depths of her eyes with an intensity that made her quail. "Why did you take my class, Shelley?"
She looked down into her coffee; then, thinking that silence would incriminate her, she said spiritedly, "Because I needed the credit."
He ignored her attempted levity. "Were you a curiosity seeker, too? Did you want to see if I'd grown horns and a long tail since you'd seen me?"
"No," she cried softly. "Of course not. Never."
"Did you want to see if I'd remember you?" He was leaning forward now, his forearms propped against the edge of the table. The distance between them was visibly decreased, but rather than shrinking from him, she felt an irresistible urge to move closer still.
"I... I guess I did. I didn't think you would remember. It's been so long and"
"Did you want to see if I remembered the night we kissed?"
Excerpted from A Kiss Remembered by Sandra Brown. Copyright © 1983 by Erin St. Claire. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.