The Mysterious Stranger – Part 5

It’d been a week since Tessa learned the truth about the anthropology professor at her school. Christopher Johnson was a werewolf in need of companionship and Tessa agreed to be his playmate. Since then, she wondered if she had made the right decision.

Christopher made himself scarce, but only in the physical sense. Tessa was haunted by dreams of wolves and medieval carnage, causing her to be exhausted and irritable. She no longer had to fake a hangover as she walked the halls with eyes have shut and feet dragging on the tile floor.

She dreaded each day she worked at the coffee shop, wondering if he would come in and torment her with his handsome looks and dark secret. Tessa didn’t think about the weight this secret would bear on her shoulders; to know that she was the only human in the whole world that knew what Christopher was.

On this particular morning, her nervous system flooded with four cups of coffee to fight off the lingering drowsiness, Tessa made her way down the hall to her art history class. Almost everyone could tell that she wasn’t doing well. The vacant, far away look in her eyes told them just enough, but not too much. Tessa seemed to turn inward too. She didn’t talk or boast near as much and whenever anyone asked what was wrong, she told the truth that she was just tired. Some, like Michele, said things like “That partying is starting to catch up to you”. Others kindly offered remedies, both legal and illegal, to cure her fatigue. She denied them all, knowing that she just needed time to let this wear off. She was sure that in a few more days, the knowledge that Christopher was a werewolf would be stored away in the back of her mind along with the fact that Santa didn’t exist and that murderers were getting released from prison on parole.

It was too late to change course by the time she realized that she was walking headlong into a group of girls that she had gone clubbing with before. A conversation was inevitable. So, she smiled and squealed like she always did when she saw someone she liked. They squealed back and hugged her neck or squeezed her butt cheek as they often did.

They all started chittering about the latest fashions and the conversation turned to the new club that was opening that night.

“You’re going, right, Tessa?” one asked, snapping her out of her mild daze.

Without thinking, she replied, “Totally! I wouldn’t miss it! When are you guys getting there?”

They settled on a time and continued talking. Tessa was going to be late for class, but there was too much to atone for in the way of neglecting her social façade. A few more minutes hanging out in the halls was what she needed to maintain her appearance that she didn’t care about school or her grades.

With her senses still a little numb from sleep and the caffeine taking it’s dearie old time to kick in, she didn’t smell his thick cologne until he was right behind her. The other girls were the first clue that something wasn’t right. They all stopped talking and looked at the man behind Tessa with mixed emotions. Some were shocked, others batted their eye lashes flirtatiously.

Tessa looked over shoulder and had to crane her neck a little to meet Christopher’s gaze.

“Chr – Mr. Johnson,” she said, trying to keep the tremble out of her voice. Seeing him for the first time in days made her lungs tighten and for a moment, she wondered if she would ever be able to breathe normally around him. The fact that he was a monster didn’t bring out this reaction in her as much as the sight of his handsome face. It was a crime for any man to be that gorgeous and dangerous at the same time.

“Tessa,” he greeted with a nod of his head. “Girls,” he nodded to the others and gave them a friendly, but authoritative smile to show them that he was still their professor.

The girls all greeted in kind, knowing exactly who the professor was. But Tessa knew him better than any of them and suddenly, she felt herself even more set apart than before. If she didn’t feel lonely before, she certainly felt it now, even with Christopher’s warm hand on her shoulder.

“Can I speak with you in private?” he asked of Tessa with a pleasant voice, showing to both her and the other girls that she wasn’t in trouble at all.

But that wouldn’t keep them from whispering. When Tessa accepted Christopher’s invitation, she hadn’t given a second thought to how it would look if she were dating a member of the faculty. Now, with the dolled up eyes of her friends fixed on the two of them, she wished that Christopher would have called instead.

She nodded and without hardly realizing it, she let Christopher guide her away from the girls and into a classroom down the hall. Judging by the way the darkened room was decorated in a similar way to his home, Tessa rightly guessed that this was his classroom. That day’s lesson plan was written up on the board, but the desks were empty.

When Christopher shut the door and blocked out the dull roar of students hustling outside, Tessa felt a stone drop in her gut. What could he want with her at this very moment? It couldn’t be a heart-to-heart, could it? Did he change the night before and want to discuss it for some reason?

It was then that she finally noticed what he was wearing. Khaki pants and a black polo shirt that was tight across his chest, the sleeves hugging his bulky upper arms like a second skin. Tessa swallowed hard and took a deep breath. He couldn’t be looking for what passed through her mind either.

Christopher perched himself on the desk top nearest the door and folded his arms. “So, how are you?” he asked, watching her with eyes that reminded her of the predator underneath. It wasn’t a malicious stare, but focused, as if he were stalking her.

Tessa felt a wave of exhaustion and ran her fingers through her hair, sweeping it back over her shoulders. She sighed and shook her head. “I’m tired. I almost can’t remember what it’s like not to be tired.”

He chuckled. “I thought that’s what college is all about. Party all night and then sleep during class. Oh, wait,” he said humorously, holding up a finger as if he received an epiphany. “You’re not like the other students here.”

Tessa was in no mood for this kind of teasing. “And you’re not like the other teachers. In fact, you’re not like anyone else in this town,” she quipped, her eyes narrowing on the man she had hoped to hook up with last week. The coquettish smile was no where to be found.

Christopher must have taken the hint and nodded. “Alright. So why are you tired?” he asked, the sarcasm gone from his voice and the sincerity returning.

“I haven’t been able to sleep lately. I keep dreaming about wolves.”

He bowed his head, tucking his chin against his chest. “I suppose you’d blame me for that.”

Tessa didn’t want to fight. Too much of this world was filled with hatred and violence. There was no point in being mad. “I wanted to blame you, but I can’t be angry with you about it.” She shuffled closer and sat on the desk next to him. “I’m just trying to get used to it, that’s all.”

Christopher finally lifted his gaze and regarded her with a fatherly warmth that she had been missing for months. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Tessa shrugged. “It just takes time.”

They were silent for a few beats before Christopher spoke again. “Perhaps I know what will help. There’s a concert tonight in the next town over. You told me you admired Mozart and the orchestra will be performing many of his pieces tonight. Would you like to accompany me?”

Tessa slumped and canted her head backwards in frustration. “I’m going out with the girls to this new club tonight. I can’t.” Her disappointment was vividly expressed in the way her lips pulled in a grimace.

“The club will be there tomorrow night.”

“No, you don’t get it. I have an image to uphold and this is the club’s opening night. There won’t be another opening night and all the cool kids will be there. I need to show up to make up for being distant this past week.”

Christopher shifted and leaned his elbows on his knees. Tessa’s eyes slid up his body, admiring the way the muscles curved under his shirt. With his super senses, surely he heard her heart beat a little faster.

“You know, you don’t want to put up this image. It’s not necessary. This is college, not high school. Some of the students a little more mature and there are more diverse groups you could plug into.”

“Clearly you never went to school and had to deal with peer pressure and bullying.”

“No, I didn’t experience it personally, but I’ve been teaching long enough to see the effects of it. I’ve taught students who have committed suicide because they didn’t feel accepted by the mob. I’ve taught students who turn to drugs and alcohol for comfort and once I had the police come in and arrest a kid for drug trafficking.” Tessa was surprised at the level of suppressed emotion in Christopher as he listed off the dozens of instances where the social pecking order of schools destroyed lives and futures.

“All of these could have been avoided if students would just grow up and be kind to one another. So, no, I can’t accurately put myself in your shoes. But I can try to imagine. And I still stand by what I said. Regardless of what others think, you should live your own life and be yourself.”

Tessa wasn’t sure if it was the exhaustion or the urgent need to get to class that provoked her, but she was positive that she could have said something nicer than what rolled out of her mouth. “And why don’t you just be yourself? Turn into a wolf and teach the class using barks and yips with the board pointed in your mouth. Bring a raw steak for lunch and chow down in front of the faculty. Purposefully walk onto a busy street and get run over just so you can amaze people when you jump up unharmed. It’s the same thing. I can’t be who I am because it wouldn’t be acceptable. No one liked me at my old school and no one would like me here.”

Christopher, despite her rousing tone, replied calmly, “I’ve seen who you really are and I like you.”

Tessa hopped down off the desk and stomped towards the door. “I’m late for class,” she grumbled, avoiding having to give a response to what he just said.

“Think about what I said!” he called out in a last stitch effort to make her stay. And she did hesitate at the door before pushing it open and entering the real world again.

Just because Christopher liked her didn’t mean that everyone else would. She looked at the students around her and rubbed at her eyes, careful to not mess up her makeup.

Up ahead she saw a girl coming towards her, arms loaded down with textbooks and binders. Her frizzy hair was everywhere and her eyes distorted by thick eyeglasses. With her high white socks and outdated wardrobe, she was the perfect stereotype for a nerd if Tessa ever saw one.

Almost in slow motion, she watched a pack of football jocks pass by her. Whether it was a complete accident or on purpose – Tessa couldn’t tell – the jock’s shoulder brushed against the corner of the nerd’s books and the whole tower came crashing down onto the hard floor. The jocks hardly noticed and kept walking.

Tessa froze there, watching from a safe distance as the nerd knelt down and began to gather her books together. She took a few bounding steps forward, but before she could, another girl was jogging past her towards the nerd.

She recognized the girl, someone she had gone to the clubs with a few weeks back. She was fun and flirty, and an obnoxious drunk. But, Tessa watched as the party girl stooped down and began helping the distressed nerd.

The rest of the world stood still while Tessa seemed to be the only witness to the scene. Before she realized it, it was over and the nerd carried on with a light smile on her face to show that she was all right now.

Tessa hustled to her art history class with far more weighing on her mind than what she woke up with this morning.


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