She withdrew her hand. “Could you close the door?” she asked. “Just for a few minutes. There’s something we need to discuss.”

Ethan stiffened, as Sheila knew he would. He was fine in a lecture hall, but they both knew he didn’t like closed doors in small spaces. Something to do with his childhood and getting locked in a closet for hours-she didn’t really know, he’d always been vague. In their tiny motel room, the windows always had to be open, even if it was raining.

“Please?” she said. “Just for a bit so we can talk in private. I’ll open the window.”

He closed her office door reluctantly while she cranked open the casement behind her. A blast of August warmth entered the air-conditioned room. Ethan waited in silence, his expression betraying nothing.

There was no way around it except to be direct. “Morris and I are getting married.”

Ethan leaned back in his chair and stared at her with unreadable light gray eyes. Again, she waited. The thrum of the air conditioner reverberated in the room.

“When did this happen?”

“Saturday.” Five nights ago.

He looked around the office. He wasn’t one to avoid eye contact, so she guessed he was digesting this information. His gaze focused briefly on a small, framed picture of Sheila and Morris on the window ledge before returning to her face. “Well, this is big news. But it doesn’t change anything between you and me.”

“It changes everything.” The words were out before she could consider their impact. Biting her lip, she forged ahead anyway. “I can’t be involved with you anymore outside of class.”

He didn’t blink. “Just like that?”

“I’m sorry.”

He exhaled and she caught a whiff of the cinnamon gum he’d been chewing earlier. He always chewed cinnamon gum, and if she closed her eyes, she could almost taste it, could almost feel his sweet, spicy tongue in her mouth-

“Congratulations.” The smile didn’t quite touch his eyes.

“Thank you,” she said.

“When’s the wedding?”

“October tenth.”

His smile turned into a grin she couldn’t read. It wasn’t amusement, or annoyance, or even a desire to please; it was something else entirely.

“So soon. Why the rush?”

She had prepared for this question, rehearsing the answer in her head during the drive to work that morning, and it rolled off her tongue. “I’m thirty-nine and I’m not getting any younger. I’m tired of living alone, Ethan. I love Morris. We want to start our life together. We-there might still be time for kids.”

“What should I wear to the wedding?”

Shocked, she opened her mouth, but no words came out.

“I’m kidding,” he said, his eyes finally showing a hint of amusement. “Joke, Sheila. I wouldn’t come even if I was invited. Isn’t there a rule about going to the weddings of people you used to fuck?”

She winced. She had no problem with cursing, but here, in this moment, it sounded unreasonably harsh.

“Ah, well. It’s better that it’s over anyway.” He ran a hand through his short, mussed hair. “It really should have ended ages ago, now that I think about it. Remember when your father died? How messed up you were?”

Her stomach lurched. “Of course I remember.” It had only been three months since her estranged father had passed away from liver cancer. Three days before the affair had started. She knew it had been the trigger.

His voice became low, accusing. “I never wanted this to be a long-term thing. But you were so goddamned needy. You kept telling me not to go.”

It was a subtle but unmistakable slap in the face. Please don’t go. Oh, yes, those had been her words exactly, words she’d whispered to Ethan the morning after her father’s funeral while lying next to him naked under the scratchy motel bedsheets. It hurt to think he could bring it up now as if they were talking about the weather.

“The timing was bad,” he said with a shrug. “I couldn’t do it to you. But really, it should have ended right after it started.”

“You said that already.”

“Are you mad?” His face was open, interested. “Don’t be mad, Sheila. I don’t regret that it lasted as long as it did. But all good things must come to an end. This won’t change anything professional between us. We still work really well together.”

He sat back with a Cheshire-cat smile.

She was suddenly infuriated. Exactly who was dumping whom here? She had agonized over this conversation for days, wondering what to say to him and how to say it, alternating between supreme bliss at her new engagement and pangs of regret over the affair, worried about hurting Morris, hurting Ethan, hurting herself. Nothing about this had been simple. Nothing.

But here he was, easy like Sunday morning, his handsome face a mixture of pity and regret.

She arranged the papers on the desk into neat stacks to keep her hands from trembling, thinking hard about what she wanted to say next.

“All right, about that.” Sheila’s words were tight as she forced herself to stay calm. “I don’t think we should continue to work together. I’m going to recommend you work with Dr. Easton from now on.”

This caught him off guard. “You’re not fucking serious?”

“I am.” She smiled, pleased at his reaction, then made a grand show of wiping her brow. “You know what, I need to close the window. It’s really hot in here and the air-conditioning’s escaping. You know how I get when it’s stuffy.”

“Sheila, don’t close-”

She stood up quickly and cranked and latched the window. By the time she turned back to Ethan, his body had gone rigid. She sat down again and crossed her legs, not bothering to hide her own little smile.

“I promise you it’ll be an easy transition. Dr. Easton was impressed with the work you did in his advanced personality theory class last term. His expertise on deviant behavior can only help your thesis.” Sheila’s smile widened. “Don’t worry, the department won’t have a problem with the switch. You can stay until the end of next term as my TA, but after Christmas-”

“I don’t want to switch,” he said. Beads of sweat appeared at his hairline even though the room was cooling. “I have less than a year to go. I don’t want to work through the kinks of a new adviser.”

“I’ll do everything I can to help.”

They sat staring at each other. It was awkward waiting out the silence, but she knew whoever spoke first would lose.

“You’re trying to get rid of me,” Ethan hissed. Circular sweat stains had formed at his armpits, soaking through the cloth of his gray T-shirt. “Well, guess what, I’m not switching. I’ve been working with you for going on three terms now. You’re not passing me off to someone else because you’re getting married and don’t want a reminder you fucked the help. My thesis is nearly done.” He was breathing hard. Perspiration trailed down his left temple.

She had about thirty seconds before he’d totally lose it; claustrophobia could be debilitating. “And I promise you nothing will change,” she said again. “Dr. Easton’s always admired you and-”

“Dr. Easton’s a fucking fag!” Ethan slammed his hands down on the desk and the stack of term papers fell over. At that moment the air conditioner paused and the room was suddenly quiet. Pointing a finger at her, he stood up. “I am not working with him. You are going to finish what you started with me.”

Sheila did her best to appear impassive. “You don’t have a choice. I can reassign you anytime I like, for any reason.”

“Really? And what would the dean say about that?” Ethan was towering over her desk. Little drops of sweat hit the term papers, blurring the ink into shapeless forms.

“Dean Simmons will back me up, of course,” she said, looking up at him.

“Even after he sees you on the Internet taking it up the ass?”

“What? What are you-” She stopped. Her throat went dry and she swallowed. Her heart started thumping in her chest so hard she thought she could feel her silk blouse moving. “You deleted that off your phone. I watched you do

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