taken her shopping for couture shoes. Julia still had those black Prada stilettos, tucked in a shoebox in the back of her closet. They’d only been worn once, on the night she’d discovered she’d been betrayed, and although she would have loved to have destroyed them like she destroyed her dress, she couldn’t. Rachel had bought them for her as a coming-home present, having had no idea what Julia was actually coming home to.

Then Julia stood for what seemed like forever in front of the Chanel boutique and wept, remembering Grace. How she always greeted Julia with a smile and a hug whenever she came to visit. How when Julia’s mother had passed away under tragic circumstances, Grace had told her that she loved her and would love to be her mother, if she’d let her. How Grace had been a better mother to her than Sharon ever had, to Sharon’s shame and Julia’s embarrassment.

And when all her tears were gone and the stores had closed for the evening, Julia walked back to her apartment slowly and began to beat herself up for having been a bad surrogate daughter, a lousy friend, and an insensitive twit who didn’t know better than to check a scrap of paper to see if it was blank before she left it behind with her name on it for someone whose beloved mother had just died.

What must have been running through his mind when he found that note?

Heartened by a shot or two or three of tequila, Julia allowed herself to ask some simple questions. And what must he think of me now?

She contemplated packing up all of her belongings and boarding a Greyhound bus bound for her hometown of Selinsgrove, just so she wouldn’t have to face him. She was ashamed she hadn’t realized it was Grace that Professor Emerson had been discussing on the telephone that terrible day.

But she hadn’t even contemplated the possibility that Grace’s cancer had returned let alone that she had passed away. And Julia had been so upset about having gotten off on the wrong foot with The Professor. His hostility was shocking. But even more shocking was his face as he cried. All she had thought about in that terrible moment was comforting him, and that thought alone had distracted her from considering the source of his grief.

It wasn’t enough that he’d just had his heart ripped out by hearing that Grace had died, without having an opportunity to say good-bye or to tell her that he loved her. It wasn’t enough that someone, probably his brother Scott, had effectively torn into him for not coming home. No, after having been destroyed by grief and crying like a child, he’d had the delightful experience of opening his office door to escape to the airport and finding her note of consolation. And what Paul had written on the other side.

Lovely.

Julia was surprised that The Professor hadn’t had her dismissed from the program on the spot. Perhaps he remembers me. One more shot of tequila enabled Julia to formulate that thought, but to think no further, as she passed out on the floor.

* * *

Two weeks later, Julia found herself in a slightly better state as she checked her mailbox in the department. Yes, it was as if she was waiting on death row with no hope of commutation. No, she hadn’t dropped out of school and gone home.

It was true that she blushed like a schoolgirl and was painful y shy.

But Julia was stubborn. She was tenacious. And she wanted very much to study Dante, and if that meant invoking an unidentified co-conspirator in order to escape the death penalty, she was willing to do so.

She just hadn’t revealed that fact to Paul. Yet.

“Julianne? Can you come here for a minute?” Mrs. Jenkins, the lovely and elderly administrative assistant, called over her desk.

Julia obediently walked toward her.

“Have you had some sort of problem with Professor Emerson?”

“I, um, I…don’t know.” She flushed and began to bite viciously on the inside of her cheek.

“I received two urgent e-mails this morning asking me to set up an appointment for you to see him as soon as he returns. I never do this for the professors. They prefer to schedule their own appointments. For some reason, he insisted that I schedule a meeting with you and have the appointment documented in your file.”

Julia nodded and removed her calendar from her knapsack, trying hard not to imagine the things he had said about her in his e-mails.

Mrs. Jenkins looked at her expectantly. “So tomorrow then?”

Julia’s face fell. “Tomorrow?”

“He arrives tonight, and he wants to meet you at four o’clock tomorrow afternoon in his office. Can you be there? I have to e-mail him back to confirm.”

Julia nodded and noted the appointment in her calendar, pretending that the notation was necessary.

“He didn’t say what it was about, but he said it was serious. I wonder what that means…” Mrs. Jenkins trailed off absently.

Julia concluded her business at the university and went home to pack with the help of Senorita Tequila.

* * *

By the following morning, most of Julia’s clothes were packed into two large suitcases. Not willing to admit defeat to herself (or to the tequila), she decided not to pack everything, and thus found herself twiddling her thumbs anxiously and in need of a distraction. So she did the one thing any self-respecting, procrastinating graduate student would do in such a situation besides drink and carouse with other procrastinating graduate students — she cleaned her apartment.

It didn’t take very long. But by the time she was finished, everything was in perfect order, lightly scented with lemon, and scrupulously clean.

Julia took more than a little pride in her achievement and packed her knapsack, head held high.

Meanwhile, Professor Emerson was stomping through the halls of the department, leaving graduate students and faculty colleagues spinning in his wake. He was in a foul mood, and no one had the courage to trifle with him.

These days he was ill tempered to begin with, but his fractious disposition had been exacerbated by stress and lack of sleep. He had been cursed by the gods of Air Canada and consequently seated next to a father and his two-year-old child on his flight back from Philadelphia. The child screamed and wet himself (and Professor Emerson), while the father slept soundly. In the semi-darkness of the airplane, Professor Emerson had reflected on the justice of government-enforced sterilization on lax parents as he mopped urine from his Armani trousers.

Julia arrived promptly for her four o’clock appointment with Professor Emerson and was delighted to find that his door was closed. Her delight soon left her when she realized that The Professor was inside his office growling at Paul.

When Paul emerged ten minutes later, still standing tall at six foot three but visibly shaken, Julia’s eyes darted to the fire exit. Five steps and she’d be free behind a swinging door, running to escape the police for illegally sounding a fire alarm. It seemed like a tempting proposition.

Paul caught her eye and shook his head, mouthing a few choice expletives about The Professor, before smiling. “Would you like to have coffee with me sometime?”

Julia looked up at him in surprise. She was already off kilter because of her appointment, so without thinking much about it, she agreed.

He smiled and leaned toward her. “It would be easier if I had your number.”

She blushed and quickly took out a piece of paper, checked it to be sure it was free of any other writing, and hastily scribbled her cell phone number on it.

He took the piece of paper, glanced at it, and patted her arm. “Give him hell, Rabbit.”

Julia didn’t have time to ask him why he thought her nickname was or even should be Rabbit, because an attractive but impatient voice was already calling her.

“Now, Miss Mitchell.”

She walked into his office and stood uncertainly just inside the door.

Professor Emerson looked tired. There were purplish circles underneath his eyes, and he was very pale, which somehow made him look thinner. As he pored over a file, his tongue flicked out and slowly licked his lower lip.

Julia stared, transfixed by his sensual mouth. After a moment, through a great effort, she dragged her gaze away from his lips to look at his glasses.

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