Current WIP – First Class

Published June 25, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Yeah, no one seems to have read the first excerpt, but I’m going to post another one.  Because.

Actually, I have a good reason:  the opening I posted because I was hoping someone might tell me how to make it less lame, but this one I actually like.

It’s not necessary to read the previous excerpt, I think.  All you need to know going into this is that the narrator is a 95% closeted homosexual man named Ashley, in love with his (straight) best friend, Paddy, who has no idea he’s gay.  (Okay, actually a lot of that information doesn’t come up in this excerpt…)

Oh, I’ve bleeped out the swearing with asterisks, because I’m not comfortable swearing on my blog, despite how much I swear in real life.  Some of the names aren’t fixed yet:  the college president’s is a temp name, as is “Julia”, who hasn’t even got a last name yet, having been saddled temporarily with [lastname].

As always, please be aware that this is the very rough first draft, okay?

Do you know why Raiders of the Lost Ark immediately became one of my favorite films of all time?

No, it’s not because I was hot for Harrison Ford, though he is pretty sexy in the role.  It’s because of that classroom scene at the beginning, with all those girls gazing dreamily at a man who is utterly uninterested in them.

Because that was my life.

Not that any of my students ever wrote “I love you” on their eyelids.  Too subtle for those girls by far.  I wouldn’t have put it past them to write it on their breasts, though.  (Well, it was the ‘80s…)

In the first week of classes in the January of ‘82, I was doing my usual mental calculations as I ran through the introductory lessons.  How many students just signed up because they had heard I was “hot,” and had no interest in the subject matter?  How many would drop the class within the first two weeks?

Any girl who just smiled giddily on my first entrance to the classroom was one I figured had no interest in being there—she’d have been there if I’d been reading the phone book, and probably would have liked it more, too.  A girl who looked shocked when I came in and started class, well, then she probably actually wanted to be there.  I figured the guys probably wanted to be there, too, except for a few who seemed more interested in their classmates than in paying attention to the coursework.

In previous semesters, I was pretty good at guessing the drop-out rate before it happened.  In introductory level Greek, about half the students dropped the class when they found out that young and “hot” not withstanding, I was still going to expect them to work.  (Why they thought my appearance would make me more lenient, I’ll never know.)  In the later levels of Greek, I could be pretty sure everyone would stay, unless they had a genuine reason to drop.

But that semester the school had saddled me with two more classes.  I was sure introductory Latin was going to have about the same ratio as Greek, with perhaps a slightly higher rate of sticking with it, because Latin’s an easier language to master, being so regular.  But the other new class…it was Greek and Latin literature.  In translation.  In other words, there was no incentive for any of the students to drop it, especially since it fulfilled some gen. ed. requirements.

I had begged the department to give that class to anyone but me.  I reminded them that I wasn’t really qualified for a literature course.  I suggested that they give it to someone from the English department.  But they wanted it in the hands of a classicist, so that all the cultural details would be properly transmitted to the students.  And so the names would be properly pronounced and their meanings understood.

I even offered to draw up detailed lesson plans and write extensive informational packets on culture and history if they’d just give the course to someone in the English department.

But the college president, Cox, was a real tyrant, and the more I begged, the more he refused.  So eventually I decided to stop begging.  I thought briefly about resigning, since he was being such an Agamemnon-like tyrant, but Paddy reminded me that unlike Achilles, I wouldn’t be able to just step right back into the void I had left behind, celebrated by all for my wisdom in coming to terms with the unreasonable situation.  They’d just laugh at me for being such an idiot, and hire someone else.

So there I was, teaching a course filled to capacity with thirty drooling girls in their late teens and early twenties.

Would have been a dream come true for a straight guy, but for me it was a nightmare.

Now, before I proceed with the narrative any further, let me just address something to the guy who’s reading this and guffawing that since I’m gay, I should have been teaching fashion design instead of Greek:  put down the book and go away.  Seriously, I don’t need you dirtying my words with your homophobic Neandertal attempts at wit.  And as to the ones snickering quietly about the deliciously appropriate nature of a gay man being a Classicist…well, I’m not too pleased about that, either, but you’re not wrong, so I guess you can keep reading.  But watch yourself in the future!

All right, so with that out of the way, I’ll get on with the story.  It was the first day of the ancient literature class, and I was doing the usual “first day of class” routine, going over the syllabus, and giving a bit of a background lecture on the culture and history of the ancient Mediterranean.  The students weren’t terribly pleased we were actually covering course work on the first day of class, and every time I asked them if they had any questions, hands always shot up, but their questions were usually things like this:

“How old did you say you are?”

“Are you married?”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Why didn’t they wear pants?”

Well, maybe they were a little more subtle than that, but not by much.  The pants question was actually a follow-up to something else, now that I look back on it.  Regardless, most of the questions — apart from the one about pants — had nothing to do with the lecture, and I was starting to feel really pissed off.  I had a few hours’ hole in my schedule after class, and I was thinking of swimming a few laps to let off some steam.  Yes, in January.  I figured I was hot enough with rage that I’d melt the ice in no time.

I didn’t actually get to act on that idiotic idea, however, because just as I was dismissing the class, the door flew open to a cry of “Aaaaaaaaashley!!”

The woman exclaiming my name in this elongated and frankly melodramatic fashion was Julia [lastname], the youngest faculty member, who had gotten her degree in English at the same time — and at the same university — as I had gotten my degree in Greek.  Somehow, we ended up friends, of a sort, after we took a class together, a class not entirely unlike the one I was now teaching.  In fact, she was the one I had tried to foist this class on, since I knew she could handle it — and I could prove it.

Julia’s an uptown New Yorker, still struggling to get used to being away from the coast, even after all this time.  She’s pretty enough, I suppose, but in a rather vapid and annoying way.  But she’s very personable and outgoing.  In short, if this was a cheesy romantic comedy movie, she would be the lead.  On this particular day in January, she was flushed from running all over the campus, and overheated in her heavy wool suit, which had been dyed a rather hideous shade of pink.  On her entrance to the classroom, a few of the girls let out a chuckle, both jealous and bemused.

“Did you need something, Dr. [lastname]?” I asked, trying to act professional…more because that was going to annoy Julia than for any other reason.  Ask anyone — even Paddy! — and they’ll tell you that I do sometimes torment my friends a bit.  What’s the point of having friends if they can’t take a little ribbing?

“Haven’t you seen this yet?!” she exclaimed, holding out a piece of paper towards me.

The paper was badly crumpled and a bit moist from having been clutched in her sweating hand as she tore about the place looking for me, and as she still maintained her deathgrip on it, I really had no idea what it could be.  “What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, I saw those fliers on the bulletin boards out in the quad,” one of the students remarked, looking at the garish colors around the edges of the page.  I can’t for the life of me remember that girl’s name, but she’ll come up again later, so let’s just randomly call her ‘Heather’ and move on.

“Okay, so why’s a flier got you so hot under the collar?” I asked, looking at Julia.  “Is the science department going to start a strip club to raise money?”  She had spent about half of the fall semester sighing over how handsome Gordon was…

“Eew, gross!” Heather exclaimed.  I will never forgive the ‘80s for cementing the place of ‘gross’ in the most commonplace of vernaculars.  It’s so bland and unimaginative!

I shot Heather a cold look to remind her that this was a conversation between two professors, and that students need not take part, but she just blushed at seeing me look at her.  That’s why I hate girls her age.  Once they mature, I don’t have too much problem with them, but when they’re all hormones like that…well, maybe I don’t have much room to complain, since I was undoubtedly just as lustful when I was her age, but at least I had the decency to keep the objects of my affection clueless as to my desires.

“Just look at this, Ashley!” Julia moaned, pressing the flier into my hand.

Flattening it out as best I could, I saw that it was, in fact, from the science department, but the only thing it was suggesting stripping was our department.  And not stripping our clothing, but our finances and jobs.  The text read “Help Midheights soar into the heights!  Let’s be the first college to discard obsolete departments that teach nothing our students need in life off the campus!”  Below the slogan were a sequence of squares with the names of departments written on them:  Art, Business, History, Languages, Literature, Math, Science.  (Yes, they were really written in alphabetical order.)  All of them had big red ‘X’s through them, except for Business, Math and Science.

“What is this bull****?!” I exclaimed, making Julia squeak a protest at my language.  “They don’t really think anyone’s going to approve of a change like this, do they?”

“What are we going to do if they take away our majors?” Heather asked.  “I mean, I’m probably okay, since I’m graduating this semester, right?  Even if they decide to get rid of the English department, they wouldn’t refuse to let me graduate at this stage, would they?”

“No one’s shutting down any departments,” I assured her, jamming the flier in my pocket.  “I’m gonna make Gordon eat this damned proposal of his!”

“It wasn’t necessarily Gordon’s idea!” Julia exclaimed, following me out of the classroom as I stormed off.

I wasn’t sure if she was defending him because she likes to play peacemaker, or if it was because she always thinks good-looking men must be innocent, but I didn’t listen either way.  Not so much because I didn’t value her opinion — though I didn’t entirely value it, either — but more because I was so pissed off that I couldn’t have calmed down if I’d wanted to.  They had chosen the wrong day to pick a fight with me!

When I got to Gordon’s office, the departmental secretary tried to keep me out, insisting that he was busy.  Fortunately, Julia hadn’t caught up with me yet — at only five foot five, her short little legs had no hope of keeping up with me when I was going full tilt like that! — so I was able to bully my way past the secretary into Gordon’s office.  Yeah, I don’t care that it sounds bad.  Besides, she was protecting Gordon, therefore she was his accomplice.  Or that’s how I saw it at the time, anyway.

Gordon must have either just gotten back from his lab, or from teaching a class, because he was still wearing his white lab coat as I entered the office.  Said office is one of the most dull I’ve ever seen, by the way:  the closest it had to decoration was a huge poster of the periodic table of the elements, with indecipherable notes scrawled over it in half a dozen colors of ink.  Other than that, there was nothing in the office apart from shelves jammed full of books and scientific journals…but not so much as a single sheet of paper “out of place.”

He looked at me with one eyebrow raised as I dug the flier back out of my pocket, like he was getting ready for the best possible moment to break out into disdainful laughter.  Of course, he didn’t wait for me to say anything before he sniffed lightly and said “I’m really rather busy at the moment.  Don’t come barging in here unless you’ve got some actual need to speak to me.”

“You’re not going to get away with this, you mother****er!” I told him, dangling the flier in front of his face.

Naturally, Julia had managed to arrive at just the right moment to rebuke me for my language.  (Again.)  Because apparently people don’t swear on her planet.  (It’s odd, though; I know for a fact that people in New York swear just as much as they do in every other part of the country, if not even more frequently.)

Julia’s exclamation made Gordon turn to look at her, and give her a brief, tight smile.  When he first arrived, I might have called it a charming smile, but by this point I was ready to call it the smile of the devil.  “Do try to keep a better leash on your boyfriend, Miss [lastname],” he said, gesturing towards me.

“I’m not her boyfriend!” I snarled, my fists clenching up again.  “I’m — ”  I was so angry that if Julia hadn’t grabbed my arm to distract me, I probably would have blurted my secret, unintentionally outing myself to my biggest enemy on the whole campus.

“Really, I don’t see why you bother with this ineffectual charade,” Gordon chuckled, shaking his head.  “In this day and age, few people would be likely to object to a relationship between a Jew and a gentile.”

I nearly launched in on him for his racism — stereotyping? — in assuming that Julia was Jewish just because she had dark, curly hair and a Germanic last name.  Fortunately, Julia was faster on the draw than I was.

“My parents aren’t very religious,” she said, shaking her head, “so they wouldn’t care about me getting involved with a gentile.  That’s not — that’s not why Ashley was denying it.”

In my own defense, I think it was perfectly reasonable of me not to know she was Jewish.  We were never all that close, and although I’d known her for close to ten years, I’d never once heard her talk about Hanukkah or Passover, and I’m positive I’d seen her eat pork.  More importantly, why would her religion have mattered one way or the other?  Her religious views are utterly unrelated to her ability to teach Dickens.

“I really couldn’t care less why he was denying it,” Gordon yawned, shaking his head.  “Just get him out of my office.”

“You’re not getting out of this as easy as that,” I told him, clenching my fists, though that nearly tore the flier in half.  “If the school cuts any departments, it’ll be Business or Science.  They’re the newcomers, after all.”  The business school had only opened in ‘78, but it was doing fairly well.  The ‘80s were already starting to solidify a bit, I suppose.

“I am not responsible for that amateurish poster,” Gordon told me, his eyes narrowing, “nor do I know who is responsible.  There’s no point in arguing with me about it.  That being said, I’m not convinced that he’s entirely wrong, either.  Reducing the number of irrelevant course offerings would, without question, improve the school’s financial woes.”

“Irrelevant?!” Julia exclaimed, horrified.  “What could be irrelevant about any field of study?!  Without English, every one of those journals would be filled with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and the vocabulary of a child!” she insisted, gesturing towards the stacks of magazines on Gordon’s shelves.

“English composition is certainly crucial,” Gordon agreed, “but literature is an over-saturated field of study.  Some is important, but to allow students to waste their time majoring in it?  It is a grotesque indulgence of the indolence of those who refuse to join productive society.  The same applies to history, anthropology, languages, the arts…”

“Languages?!” I repeated.  I wasn’t going to let him get away with that one!  “How far do you think a scientist’s career would get if he needed fifteen translators every time he went to an international conference!?  For that matter, how could there even be international conferences if no one studied foreign languages?  There wouldn’t be any translators to facilitate the exchange of ideas!”

Gordon scoffed at that.  “Studying foreign languages is certainly useful…so long as they aren’t dead languages…”

“I also speak French and German,” I lied.  Well, it wasn’t a complete lie.  I could understand German enough to read articles written in the language — there are a lot of German Classicists — but I’d be helpless if I tried to speak to someone in it.  And all my French had been picked up in a conversational setting…

In disgustingly flawless French, Gorden expressed his extreme disbelief that I could actually speak the language.  Most of my reply consisted of the same thing I’d said to him as I entered the room, because I know more swear words in French than regular ones.

“Was that supposed to be French?” he replied, his voice roiling with mirth.  “You’d be laughed off the streets of Paris if you tried to speak that way there.  Where did you learn it?”

“Vietnam,” I told him, jerking my dogtags out from under my shirt.  No, I’m not proud of having served in one of the worst and most pointless wars of all times, but…well, if nothing else, having proof I was a veteran sometimes allayed suspicions about my sexuality.  The early 1980s were not really a time when it was good to have it known you were gay.  “Don’t remember seeing you there,” I added, just to stick in the only knife I had.

“Considering there was no reason for the United States to get involved in that waste of human life, I don’t think you should sound so proud of it,” Gordon chuckled.  “Now, if you don’t mind, I have work to do.”

“You son of a — ” I started, but Julia tugged on my arm, pulling me towards the door.  “Come on, Ashley.  It’s okay,” she said, with her usual naïveté.  “He said he’s not really trying to shut our departments down.”

I tried to argue with her about that, but between her and Gordon, the deck was stacked against me, and eventually I had to just give up.

Once Julia and I were alone in the hall, she looked at me curiously.  “Why did you learn French in Vietnam?” she asked.  “Was there a lone Frenchman who stayed behind that you were…seeing?” she added, in a conspiratorial whisper.

I sighed.  “Something like that,” I admitted.  It wasn’t quite that simple, but…well, the less you know about that, the better.

For some reason, that answer thrilled Julia, and so she was in high spirits as we headed back to the building where both our departments had their offices.  She began prattling about how great she expected the semester to be, how wonderful her students seemed to be, and — of course — how handsome Gordon was.  Honestly, I don’t think he was all that good-looking.

Given that I was still ticked off by the conversation with Gordon, Julia’s extreme cheer was not helpful.  In fact, it made me want to punch her in the face.  Of course, I didn’t do that — I’ve never hit a woman without genuine provocation! — but it did make my mood become worse and worse and worse.

The killing stroke was after we parted ways, though.  The English department had its offices on the third floor of the Faculty Building, while languages were on the fifth floor.  (History got the fourth floor.)  The building had a spiral staircase at the center, which let out into atrium-like reception offices, where the coffee machine, copier, and other shared resources were, including — obviously — the reception desk, where a departmental secretary answered phones and took messages.

As I came up the stairs, the secretary smiled at me.  “Oh, Dr. Pendleton!  You just missed him!”

“What?  Did Paddy come to see me?” I asked.  Hey, I was hoping my day was going to get better!  Can you blame me for that?

She laughed at that.  Sometimes I think she already knew where I stood.  “No, but he did call.  I was just about to take the message to your office.”

The fact that the message was not simply a request for me to call him — which she never bothered writing down, and just relayed in person — did not encourage me to think it was good news.  I accepted the message from her, but waited until I was back in my office to read it.  I wanted the comforting space, just in case.

My office was mostly overflowing with books, like any other professor’s office, but I also had some posters up — partially as a joke, my mother had given me a poster for Jason and the Argonauts, so that was up in the office there — and a few replicas of ancient Greek pottery, bronze work and statuary.  If you’re going to get bad news, make sure to surround yourself with things you love, right?

The message was, of course, bad news.  It said “Dinner’s off tonight.  My boss is taking everyone out for drinks.  I can’t miss this opportunity if I ever want a promotion.”

Since I had forgotten to close the door, I did my best to swear in Greek, Latin and German instead of English.  Just in case there were students in the hall.

This WIP totally needs a name…

…but I’m probably going to keep posting excerpts to keep my focus on it.  Or rather to try and force my focus away from that potential fanfic that’s trying to take over my brain…

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