Miss Loxley, I
It was already five o’clock. The clouds seemed to cover the whole of Sussex county, obliterating the last vestiges of the sun that filtered in through the high windows and managed to get around the great bulk of the dormitory. The room was cold, owing to the radiator being out-of-order; so cold that Jeanne fancied that she could, if she looked closely, see her breath puffing up from her mouth. The bubbling sundries in vials and vats didn’t do any good, either. Goose bumps grew up and down her slender arms, beneath the brushed silk-cotton of her fitted sleeves. She wished that she’d have at least a stole with her.
In addit ion to the cold, she fancied that Professor Dritch had put forth a special effort to have the classroom as uncomfortable as possible for her study session. The chairs were straight-backed and cold, the desks just as hard; everything was just as cold and s evere as Dritch himself, who sat with impeccable posture at his own large desk, his wrist flicking in his straight-skirted frock coat as he marked mistakes with red ink.
Her eyes narrowed at the place where the widow’s peak of his black hair met his hi gh, pale forehead, as if she might punish him with a glare. Perhaps she might avenge herself upon the odd way in which he’d look at her during class that never failed to make her blood curdle. As she tried to shoot daggers with her eyes, he looked up. His cruel, cupid’s-bow lips were pursed appraisingly under his aquiline nose, his dark brows raising over his nearly-black eyes in question. Jeanne quickly lowered her eyes, her face flushing uncomfortably.
Another hour passed with agonizing slowness. The sky had turned black and Jeanne hadn’t raised her head when Dritch had set a kerosene lamp on her desk . Her wrist hurt from writing, her back, neck and chest hurt from the combination of her tightly laced corset and the straight-backed chair, her head hurt from the weight of the bun on the top of it. She suppressed a noise when she heard Dritch push his chair back and come out from behind his desk, picking up one of her binding books. She shuddered inadvertently as his arm brushed by her shoulder, her papers grasped in his long, white fingers. After looking at them for a moment, he selected three, crumpled them in his hand, and let them drop to the floor. As two hours of her work fell to the floorboards, Jeanne inadvertently let out a long groan that b roke the silence that followed the soft scraping of the paper wads.
“Is something the matter, Miss Loxley?” Professor Dritch’s voice was deep, soft and penetrating. Jeanne could feel his hard, black eyes boring into her when she heard him speak. She br eathed in hard, setting her quill down for fear that she’d splatter ink on her paper.
“No, Sir.” She lied, grasping for the pen again. Before she could catch it, he spoke again, raising his voice.
“Look at me when I speak to you, Miss Loxley.” She f elt as if she was being cracked with a whip. Jeanne raised her head hurriedly, feeling terribly ashamed. In the first year that girls were permitted to take chemistry classes, she had done badly. Professor Dritch’s class was utterly horrible, full of equa tions and exacts that she simply had no interest in doing. During one of his interminable lectures, he’d found her reading an account of Ancient Egypt in in her lap. The humiliation that she’d suffered in front of the class afterwards had served as a succ essful deterrent for any recurrence.
“Since you’re intelligent enough to read accounts of ancient history for pleasure, you’re certainly capable of doing your multiplications correctly.” His voice broke through her unpleasant memories while reminding h er of them duly, making her fume silently. “I shall have to give you another bad mark if you don’t improve shortly.”
Jeanne lifted her cautious, hazel eyes half-way to his face, settling on the silver buttons of his cropped velvet frock coat that stood out like stars against the pervasive blackness of his garments. She shivered; half from the cold and half from the fact that she was missing the dinner hour, wasting away under Professor Dritch’s shadow.
“I-is there-” Arrested mid-sentence, her eyes flew wide as he took her chin between his forefinger and thumb, lifting it so that she was forced to look him in the face. The angle of the light from the kerosene lamp made him look ghostly and sallow, casting wild shadows with his shoulder-length black hair. He held her face for the moment that she squirmed from instinct before speaking again, his voice soft and authoritative at the same time.
“You will look at me when you are speaking as well as when you are being spoken to, Miss Loxley. Is that cle ar?”
As he spoke, Dritch ran his thumb smoothly over her bottom lip. Jeanne lost every syllable of his meticulously spoken words for his unexpected touch, as if she had been bitten by a serpent. She sat rigidly in her desk, shoulders back and hands fro zen in place as her eyes became locked with those of her Professor. She hadn’t noticed the transition between the frigid, impassive scowl of earlier in the evening, when he sat correcting his papers at his desk, and that look. Now, backed up into her desk as far as she could go, Jeanne watched as he furrowed his brows but enough to be noticed as such, letting the thin line of his lips part slightly, coolly swallowing her with his eyes. Her lips burned from his touch, all a-tremble with confused, frightene d emotions. She was barely able to coax the words “yes, Sir” from her mouth, still held firmly by his eyes as much as by his fingers. Said Professor Dritch as he contemplated her fear-filled face:
“It pleases me to hear that, Miss Loxley.”
His voice had taken on a silky quality, whose deep softness made Jeanne shudder for a reason rather removed from fear. The way in which he said “Miss Loxley” brought to mind someone eating fat, black cherries or a hot, sweet bun; he pronounced her name as if he we re eating something delicious. The room didn’t feel cold anymore, rather, temperature was negated in comparison to Dritch’s fingers that slid under her chin to cup her jaw, the palm of his hand like ice wrapped in soft leather. His other arm gracefully se t the copy book on the table before bringing itself around the back of her head. She didn’t have time to react to the swift theft of her hair-pins that dropped her coil of long, dark hair over her shoulders and over the edge of the chair. Her hand flew in stinctively to the back of her head, her mouth opening in horror, the outsides of her eyes turning downwards as her face filled with petals of shame. She gave a start as tears sprang into her eyes, looking pleadingly up into his. The feeling of her hair f alling down her back had lifted a weight from her head- but which one? Three inches of stature were taken from her, given unto the cold, gloating eyes that held her. The hairpins clinked softly on the desk as Dritch set them down, out of her line of visi on, turning back to her with cruel relish radiant on his face. He’d freed her into immense vulnerability.
Her face was released in a sudden, smooth pull. Never once did it occur to Jeanne that she was still holding her head at rapt attention, neither d id it bother her outside of principle that her hair lay against her neck. Her breath was shallow, coming out in puffs that coagulated around her lips. She stared as Professor Dritch leaned towards her, seeming to grow taller with proximity; his thin, crue l lips lifting into a small, twisted smile. No strength with which to cry out came to her as she felt his hands hook under her arms, lifting her from her chair.
The shock of movement stirred her a bit, breaking the glaze over her eyes. Enveloped in the darkest shadow in the whole, drafty room, the cold impressed itself upon her again. She whimpered pitifully, trying halfheartedly to throw herself from the long, black clothed arms that wound about her tiny waist and palmed the broad of her back. As he g athered her in, his black eyes locked with hers, freezing her like basilisks set in his pale, angular face. Jeanne felt her hips being pressed into the tops of his thighs, the busk of her corset crushed against his lower chest and stomach; she had to stop struggling and to lean into him to keep from falling over. The sensation of being so close to someone coupled with the very-active shock that she felt caught her, once again, off guard.
Securely in Dritch’s arms, Jeanne felt herself flounder between f ear and a curiosity hithro foreign to her. A weird, pleasant warmth began to creep through her thighs and through her chest, pushing at her corset as he slid the hand at her back up towards the head with deliberate slowness, winding his long fingers throu gh her hair. Jeanne could feel her heart beating heavily as the electrifying tingle that his fingers left behind culminated on her head, slowly, gently tipping it backwards. Her lips parted helplessly, in a gasp for breath, as a tendril of his smooth, black hair ran along her face.
From inches away, Dritch’s soft breath slid over Jeanne’s face, the quiet, contented panting of a wolf who has finally caught his prey. The grip that he had at the back of her head forbade any movement other than that which was guided. The weird feeling that invaded her torso only increased when his face dropped further into hers so that the tips of their noses touched, his arm locking around her waist and her own arms at the same time. Jeanne had no time to react to him, bl udgeoned hither and tither with the formidable, hot feeling that manifested itself below her stomach, lighting off like firecrackers wherever Dritch touched her.
Like an iron brand falling into shaking skin, his lips pressed into hers. The touch betwee n them began as feather-light, where the initial spark passed. Jeanne’s muscles went lax in a swift, steady wave that flushed through her entire body. When she breathed in, her lungs filled with air tainted with the crisp, dark smell of old books that was as intoxicating as opium smoke. She collapsed in his tight, insistent embrace as his lips puckered barely, pressing down on hers, dry and parted. His lips were cool and smooth and felt infinitely more sensual than they looked. Her arms flexed instinctively, roped in by one of his own while her eyes finally closed, unable to resist the tide-like pull of his mouth. She cried the quietest, most turbulent noise when he broke that kiss, letting his barely parted lips hover over hers. Her eyes opened timidly, a tear spilling from the left. Dritch’s coal-black eyes shone dully from so close, like two bottomless holes that she’d already slid down halfway.
“It’s gotten to be rather late, Miss Loxley,” he murmured against her lips, his deep, velvety voice as s teady as her throat was tremulous. “You’ll miss your meal if you aren’t quick to get to the dining hall.”
As he spoke, the professor unwrapped his subject slowly enough to enable her to find her own footing. This uncertain paralysis had become sweet; e ven her mind had forgotten to rebel against it. Jeanne stumbled as he released her, gripping the forgotten desk for support. She shuddered as her grasping fingers raked over the black velvet of Dritch’s frock coat, mindlessly patting around for her copy b ook.
Standing hunched, the busk of her corset digging into her pubic bone, Jeanne gathered her things to her slowly and shakily. The cold of the room hit her like a battering ram as shadow interposed itself between her person and his. The spell that ha d come over her earlier crumbled around her fragile shoulders, changing the hot feeling in the pit of her stomach to a hole as deep as that which she saw in her professor’s endless eyes. She found it difficult to gather her pen and books against her chest as she watched him glide easily back to his desk, dropping himself back into the straight backed, severe posture that he started in. She watched the long, tapered hands that gripped her moments ago lace themselves together on the cold, hard wood of his w ide desk as she tried to keep her balance, pushing off of her desk. He was utterly amazing, remaining untouched where she had been inexplicably marked.
Using her books as a counter-balance, Jeanne stumbled back through the row of desks. She saw only th e doorframe, the lacquer lit up by the kerosene lamps, though she could feel Dritch’s black eyes like a net around her whole body. She shuddered anew, imagining that a little string would stay at her back, wound around his finger, enabling him to pull her back to him at his whim. When her hand finally found the door-handle, she wrenched it open with an effort greater than she’d ever afforded for the purpose. She jerked the hem of her dress towards her when she slipped from the room through the little cra ck in the door, resisting the desire to lean her back against the door and to catch her breath. He’d stay there, like a great black spider, awaiting her in patiently until she was forced to return to his lair. The sound of her heels against the floor fill ed the darkness, threatening to burst her ears as she clattered from the classroom. Jeanne’s heart beat like that of a little bird, threatening to beat right out of her chest. She began to run.