Chapter 184 – The Academy’s Secret Lovers (5)
From that day on, Stella tried not to run into the professor. Of course, the Academy itself wasn’t infinitely large, and it was inevitable that she encountered him. Each time she dropped her head and bowed deeply to hide her face.
Stella did not stay in the Academy during summer vacation. Luckily, Louise invited her to the Sweeney residence and they enjoyed themselves in the capital.
Starting the fall, Stella began preparing for her final exams in earnest. She wanted to earn her way to second place and wipe out the dishonor on her name. Despite her curiosity in biology and lingering attachment for Professor Hill, Stella didn’t take a class for it this semester. She was surprised that she had such tenacity in her heart.
‘Will I feel better after graduation?’
As the thought stewed in her mind, she ran into the professor of biology, Professor Duran.
“Did you have a good vacation, Miss Lapis?”
“Yes. I spent it at the Sweeney greenhouse.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun.”
“It was. They even showed me their laboratory.”
“By the way, Miss Lapis.”
The professor held up his attendance book and looked at her in puzzlement.
“You didn’t sign up for my class this semester. Did it overlap with your required classes?”
“Oh, no! It’s not like that.”
“I had hoped to teach you again, as you were an excellent student last semester.”
Stella couldn’t bring herself to answer anything. It was for personal reasons that she turned her back on biology.
“I don’t mean to embarrass you. I just missed a good student.”
Professor Duran offered a gracious smile.
“You’re welcome to do personal study, and if you have any questions—ah, wait. I have to write a performance report this year.”
The professor clapped his forehead in realization.
“Ask Professor Wayne Hill! He’s very helpful.”
Stella shook her head wildly.
“Well, I prefer you Professor Duran!”
“What good is this old professor? Professor Wayne Hill teaches much better.”
Stella tried to refuse several times, but Professor Duran insisted that she talk to Professor Hill and that she had nothing to worry about. He said things like, “You can visit him as many times as you want” and “If Professor Hill doesn’t teach you properly, I’ll go give him a smack.”
Stella found it impossible to refuse.
“Then if there’s something I don’t know during my study, I’ll ask Professor Hill for help.”
Professor Duran’s face brightened noticeably at her answer. He looked around and yelled loudly in the corridor.
“Hey, Professor Hill, do you have a minute? Oh no, you’ve dropped things again.”
Stella turned her head and, sure enough, Professor Hill was standing there, the baskets he was carrying lying scattered on the floor.
Professor Duran helped Professor Hill pick up the baskets, said he had an appointment with the dean, and then left. Right before that, however, he conveyed his conversation with Stella to Professor Hill, and encouraged him to teach his valuable student.
“And Miss Lapis, help Professor Hill carry these baskets.”
Professor Duran hurried away with that terrible request. After a short moment of agony, Stella decided to offer him her help.
“Are you taking these to the greenhouse?”
It was the first time they had spoken in months, but she couldn’t bring herself to meet his eyes.
His refusal prompted Stella into action somehow, and she picked up half the baskets and made her way to the greenhouse. Professor Wayne Hill stared at her leaving for a moment, then was forced to follow her.
When Stella arrived at the greenhouse, she sorted the baskets and bowed slightly to Professor Hill.
“Thank you, Miss Lapis.”
No sooner had he finished speaking did Stella turn away, as if she was running away from him.
She was afraid, as if staying any longer would break her resolve.
She heard him call her from behind. Fortunately, his voice was very soft, and she wouldn’t appear rude if she pretended not to hear it.
But Stella foolishly ended up stopping in her tracks.
“If you have any questions, feel free to ask me.”
“Anytime is fine, if I’m either here or in the lab.”
Stella finally turned towards him.
“I have nothing to ask of you.”
“But Professor Duran said you were doing personal study…”
Stella wanted to scream. Last spring, when she wanted to ask him questions, he pushed her away. Now he wanted to talk to her? She knew she wasn’t being rational; Professor Hill couldn’t disobey Professor Duran’s orders after all. However, this was going too far.
“Will you really tell me anything?”
“Yes, if I know the answer, I’ll tell you right away. If I don’t know, I would have to do some research.”
“Then let me ask you a question, Professor Wayne Hill.”
She stared resolutely at him. He hadn’t changed a bit. His thick-framed glasses, his wrinkled coat, his dirt-covered fingers…it was all detestably the same. This was what was messing with Stella.
Stella spoke of a memory that now seemed like a distant dream.
“When you were sick, why did you…”
She remembered when Professor Hill grabbed her wrist and smiled at her sweetly. That was the only time she saw him smile that day, and thought it was an expression only reserved for her. It turned out only to be a foolish delusion, of course.
“Why…did you do that?”
When the question was over, Professor Hill blinked at Stella. She became sure at that moment that he didn’t remember anything. Not even a blurry afterimage. Her footsteps moved forward again.
“…I’m sorry. You don’t have to answer.”
Professor Hill called out to her in dismay, but she didn’t stop walking. He caught up to her with his long legs, but couldn’t bring himself to take hold of her hand.
“W-wait. I said I’d answer anything. So, wait a minute…”
“You don’t remember anyway.”
Hot tears formed in her eyes as she looked at him, and Wayne Hill suddenly felt very small.
“Wh-what i-it was.”
His hands felt restless without anything to hold onto, so he clutched his coat.
“I thought it was a dream…”
He continued the story with a low murmur.
“I was very sick that day, so I thought what I saw wasn’t real. I…I dream quite often.”
He suddenly blanched.
“Just anything that comes to mind. A failed experiment that succeeds in my dream. Or a classroom that’s filled with students, that…!”
As he tried to put his dreams to words, the tears in Stella’s eyes fell. Wayne Hill suddenly realized that he had been speaking without stuttering.
“So, that’s not it. So don’t cry, yes?”
His words had the opposite effect. Stella would usually delicately wipe her face with her sleeve, but this time she buried it into her palm with a grievous sob.
“So when I saw Miss Lapis…that’s…that’s why I thought it was a dream. So don’t cry. Aagh…”
His hands began to fidget again.
“I remember. Of course I remember. You took off my glasses, right? And then…”
He took a few restless steps around Stella as he recounted the memories of that day.
“That’s why I smiled because I was glad to see you. Because I was sick. So don’t cry! Ah.”
Stella sniffled and raised her head. She stared at the professor with red-rimmed eyes, she seemed so embarrassed that she couldn’t breathe properly.
“Why am I in your dream?”
Wayne Hill scratched his gray hair and replied in a strangled voice.
“I…I can’t answer that…”
He needed to find the words that would dig him out of this awkward situation, and if possible, mask all his bad thoughts. But if he did that…
Would he bring her to tears again?
He wanted Stella to smile. She was a victim of his hurt.
If Wayne Hill had been a little more brave, he wouldn’t find himself struggling as much as did now. However, it was another thing to be honest about his thoughts.