Pushing the Limits

By: Brooke Cumberland

I’m not sure this class could get any worse.

“Aspen Evans…” I hear him say as if he’s reading from the attendance list. Perhaps it can. I look up and he’s looking right at me, directing everyone else’s eyes to me. I feel my cheeks heat and reddening to the color of a tomato, I’m sure.

I swallow and answer, “Yes?”

“Would you like to begin? Tell us a bit about yourself. Something interesting. Something embarrassing, perhaps.” He crosses his arms over his chest, his feet parted shoulder-length. He looks highly amused with his lips curled up in a smart-ass smirk.

I want to die.

Literally die.

I clear my throat and stand up. “Um, sure,” I respond with a fake smile plastered on my face. “My name’s Aspen. I’m a third-year student double majoring in art history and studio arts. I started drawing and painting in high school. So um…basically, I just focus on art.” I smile nervously. I want to kick myself in the shin for sounding so stupid.

“It’s nice to have you in class, Aspen,” Professor Hampton responds, flashing me a knowing grin. He then nods his head to Ellie, motioning for her to begin.

“Hi, y’all! I’m Ellie. I’m from Louisiana. I’m a theater major with a minor in art, hence having to take this god-awful night class.” She laughs, getting a few of the other students to chuckle right along with her. “I’m just messing with you, Professor H.” She winks before leaning back into the chair.

His shoulders cave in as he rubs his eye, hiding his amusement by Ellie’s too honest response. I find it mildly entertaining, but I try to hold it in. I need this class to graduate and at least a 3.5 GPA to continue getting my scholarship. I wouldn’t be surprised if he flunks me based on my first impression alone.

“Thanks, Ellie,” he breathes out, motioning to the next student.

“I can’t believe you said that,” I whisper, leaning into her.

She shrugs unapologetically as the rest of the students continued their introductions. I try to sneak glances at Professor Hampton, but he isn’t making it easy. He catches me every time I look up to see if he’s looking at me.

Shit, I mutter to myself. I was so looking forward to this class, but now I can’t even look my professor in the eye. Every time he turns his head toward me, my traitorous body shivers in return. I pull my lower lip in between my teeth to hide my smile, but I feel the nerves and tension all over my body.

Professor Hampton is looking at me like he wants to do more than just look at me…

Once introductions are over, he hands out the syllabus and supplies sheet. He instructs us to look over it closely.

It’s fifteen pages.

“The next sixteen weeks are going to be fast-paced. You want to pass my class, you better make sure you pay attention and get your assignments completed on time. For most of you, this class is required for graduation. So I expect full participation.”

“I’d like to participate in takin’ off his pants…” Ellie whispers into my ear, making me choke on my own tongue as I try to hold in a laugh.

“Do you have a question, ladies?” My eyes widen as I hear Professor Hampton’s stern voice and see him looking straight at us.

“Well, not an appropriate one…” Ellie giggles, and I blush crimson. I’ve got to find a new place to sit.

“Perhaps we should separate into groups now,” he responds, rubbing a hand along his jawline and shaking his head. Ellie’s over the top teasing makes me feel just as flustered and flushed as he looks.

Between the stress of a new class and the added attention from Ellie’s outrageous comments, I can feel the anxiety bubbling up inside me. My hands are shaky and my chest feels tight. It always starts this way and there’s nothing I can do but ride it out.

Professor Hampton is on the other side of the classroom, grouping students together, so I take the opportunity to slip out before he can stop me.

My heart is pounding in my chest, and I can barely catch my breath. I need to find a bathroom and fast before I have a complete anxiety attack in front of everyone.

As soon as I push the door open, I race to the sink and splash water on my face. I place my hands flat on the counter and slouch down, regaining my focus. I breathe slowly through my nose and exhale out through my mouth several times before the tightness in my chest starts to ease. Several moments later, my heart rate evens out and I’m over the worst.

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