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By Grace Malinee

Honorable Mention, Prose, Create | Encounter 2021

The tilted tree outside Colette’s corner office window acted as a kind of metronome, scritching against the glass in such a regular rhythm that Colette unconsciously kept time to it with the tapping of her pen.

It was half past seven by now, but Colette hadn’t even considered going home yet. Not until the stack of papers to grade had shrunk from the towering monolith that currently dominated the corner of her desk.

Normally, once her office hours were done, she’d take some of the papers home. Chatham must surely be there by now, with their leftover stuffed peppers, a glass of merlot, and his own stack of undergrad papers to grade. ‘Twas the season. But she couldn’t feel comfortable going home until she’d made at least a little more progress.

Just a few more, she promised herself, pulling a stapled paper off the top of her stack and once more clicking her grading pen to the ready position. Just a few more tonight, and then a few more tomorrow, and then the day after…and then maybe, finally, she could put this semester to rest.

As Colette looked at the paper, turned a pale yellow by the light of her weak desk lamp, her eyes blurred and stung with fatigue. She rubbed them with one hand and stifled a yawn with the back of the other.

She had been wicked tired the past two weeks. The sun was setting early, and she hadn’t had the time to wake up with her morning bike ride. Her students themselves were stumbling blearily into class, unkempt, sleep-deprived, and overly caffeinated.

And to think, she mused, that I used to imagine my professors were just sitting back and relaxing while we did all of the hard work during finals.

The audacity.

Audacity, from Latin’s audicitas, and in Medieval Latin, transposed as audax--

Colette stopped rubbing her eyes and laughed a bit at herself. Had she really just been mentally giving the etymology of a word she’d just been thinking?

She really was tired.

“Alright,” she said aloud. It was evident that she understood historical linguistics. The question was--did her students?

She turned her attention to the paper at hand. The papers were a simple etymology deconstruction and a report of changed morphology and semantic shift.

Simple enough.

Colette was a mere three sentences into reading an introductory paragraph when her phone buzzed.

A text. From her sister.

Though Colette had texted her much earlier in the day, Laura never seemed to have time to text her back until she got the kids to bed. Such was the life of a single mother.

“Jace has been really into Power Rangers…” the text began.

Right. The boys. Christmas presents.

That’s what Colette had been asking her about.

She had to get the boys Christmas presents before she visited Laura for the holidays in a week and a half.

She was always grateful for Laura’s specificity and detailed instructions in the present-giving department. Colette was admittedly clueless about what kind of stuff kids liked, especially three rambunctious boys under the age of ten. Colette rarely saw her three nephews, as they spent holidays alternating between her sister’s house and staying with their father who lived two states away. And as much as Colette wanted to be the ‘fun aunt,’ she so rarely spent time around any children that she found herself embarrassingly baffled as to what exactly to do around them on the rare occasion she found herself in their company.

Of all of the professors in the English and Linguistics department, she was definitely the youngest, which would presumably give her a leg up, but none of her friends had children and few of her colleagues, and the ones who did were empty nesters. The one notable exception to the rule was Diane Rivers, but Diane was an outlier in most regards, not only as a mother to school-aged children, but also as one of the English professors that mostly worked with Education majors. But even she had tenure. Colette was one of the very slim minority who had yet to receive it, though she expected it to happen by the end of year, if all went according to plan.

‘And then you’ll really have a hard time getting rid of me,’ she’d told Chatham with a cheeky grin a few weeks ago over breakfast. He’d simply smirked at her and swiped a bit of peanut butter off the corner of her lip with his pinky finger and given her a wink.

‘Like I’d want you to go anywhere,’ he’d said.

It was a running joke between her and Chatham that she was the one student that he’d never been able to shake.

When Colette had returned to the university after graduate school and a brief adjunct stint elsewhere, the romance that had kindled between her and Chatham had raised a few eyebrows in their department. But now that four years had passed, and now with Chatham and Colette living together, most of their colleagues had since replaced the image of Colette as a fresh-faced undergrad with the image of her as a competent professor.

While Colette had never dreamed of any sort of romantic entanglement when Chatham had been nothing more than the ‘cute young professor’ she’d taken classes with in undergrad; she was glad that their mutual admiration had blossomed into something more.

She and Chatham were always on the same page about everything, it seemed. Academically. Philosophically. Ethically. She’d never previously imagined she could find someone that was so compatible with her.

She sighed as she turned her attention fully to Laura’s text and opened it up to read it. She only wished Laura had been able to stay with Mike. Of all of the tragedies in the world, their dissolved marriage was one of them. They had been so happy--giddy even--all through their dating life and into their marriage, the honeymoon phase of which had seemed to last longer than usual.

But it had all gone wrong when they’d begun having kids. Parenting differences and the stress and strain of raising a family had gotten the better of them, it seemed.

Another reason me and Chatham are never having kids, Colette told herself yet again.

That was one thing she was glad Chatham also agreed with her on.

She remembered, with a wry smile, how Chatham had not-so-subtly choked on his gin and tonic at the last faculty Christmas party when Diane Rivers had made a casual comment about her five children.

‘Five?’ Chatham had voiced incredulously on the drive home that night. ‘Do you have any idea how big of a carbon footprint a family of seven leaves?’ He’d paused, sighed, and pushed his glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose. ‘Being that wanton with your family size is a small step away from environmental terrorism.’

While Colette wasn’t sure if she would phrase her thoughts quite that strongly, she did admit that he had a point.

While she wouldn’t begrudge Diane Rivers her minivan or her sensible shoes (even if Colette found both tacky), she was more than pleased with her childless existence.

She once more returned her attention to the