tagMatureMy Education Ch. 03

My Education Ch. 03


Chapter 03 - Moving Out

My thanks to a great editor whose help has strengthened this submission. My apologies for the delay, and my thanks for the emails and comments regarding the story.

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I got home that Sunday and managed to take a short nap before going out to dinner with my family. Fortunately, they just thought that Sarah had kept me so busy that I didn't get any sleep. Dinner was great, though my mother was disappointed. Evidently, she didn't know that Outback Steakhouse has a corporate policy against singing for someone's birthday. My sisters and my brother just laughed. They knew why I picked Outback: I always feel awkward when people sing Happy Birthday to me. My mom wasn't going to be deterred so easily. She made everyone sing in the parking lot. It wasn't until we got home and my mom went to bed that my dad broke the news. My mom's mother passed away earlier in the week. They didn't want to say anything, because my younger brothers and sisters were still in school. Their Spring Break was that following week, so they would have a week to deal with the loss. My younger sister Elizabeth was the closest to my grandmother, and it was obvious that this had hit her hard. In an effort to cheer her up, I took her out for a drive in my car, a BMW 318 sedan.

I obtained this fine example of German engineering in November 1994 due to a car accident that totaled both my car and the car of my older sister Jessica. I was following her to the Honda dealership during the Thanksgiving break so she could have her car put through a regular service interval. A car ran a red light and smashed into the rear passenger side of her car and the front passenger side of mine. The collision totaled both cars and the driver fled the scene, but returned later. Jessica and I looked at each other because something was wrong. A blond haired man left the scene in the damaged car but a dark haired man returned. The two witnesses also agreed that the hair color of the driver had changed, but their word wasn't definitive either. The driver was the sales manager for the BMW dealership located down the street from the Honda dealership. Jessica was now going be returning to Chicago without a car. My father showed up about the same time the owner of the dealership did and, after an adults only conversation, the owner replaced both cars with used 318i sedans. Thinking that things had turned out all right, my dad spoke briefly with Jessica and I before talking to the two witnesses. My father then had a very brief and very cold exchange with the dealership owner resulting in Jessica and I driving home in brand new 1995 models.

While I was close to all of my siblings, Elizabeth and I got along the best. She and I worked at Rob Jordan's engine shop the previous summer. Rob ran an import engine and transmission rebuild business that also made high-performance engines, exhaust systems, braking systems, and other performance products. While I worked evenings for my mom's brother Mike, I also worked days for Rob to save up for college. Elizabeth and I learned a lot about engines, and we applied that knowledge during a project Rob let us pursue. Over the course of two months, we modified the engine of my car using custom-built parts that Rob had designed and we built or ones that he had selected. Elizabeth, or Liza as I called her, put in a lot of extra hours to help me build that custom motor. Using the racing version of the motor as a blueprint, we turned the 1.8-liter 140-hp engine into a 2.0-liter 195-hp engine. It doesn't sound like much to most people, but our engine pushed that little four-door sedan from 0 to 60 in 7 seconds and the car would hit the quarter-mile mark in 15 seconds. Not too bad for a car that also got nearly 40 mpg on the highway. While the car was mine, the engine that was the heart of that vehicle belonged to her just as much as it did to me.

Liza and I drove around for nearly three hours reminiscing about that summer. Almost a year later, she was still a little disappointed that her age prevented her from going to the BMW driving school with me. She only had her learners' permit at the time, so there was nothing that could have been done. I told her that she could take the car to the school this summer and that seemed to cheer her up a little. After we stopped for gas, I let her drive for a while before heading home.

Between the large steak dinner, the physical activities of the weekend, and the emotional drain with the loss of my grandmother, I was in bed within minutes after Elizabeth and I got back. I slept nine full hours and I woke up almost completely refreshed. Although I should have been occupied with the loss of my grandmother, as I drove to school my mind was occupied with only one thing: what was Erin's plan? She seemed so certain that she could make something between us work. Four kids meant my parents could hardly afford to pay for me to live at school which is why I still lived at home. Surely Erin wasn't planning to have me live with her. While I would not object, I could not see my parents or the University approving that. Still, I hoped that her plan worked and that I wouldn't have to wait too long before I found out what it was.

I met Heidi and Tony for our morning Calculus class. The professors posted grades by their offices using student ID numbers. Heidi had already made the rounds and collected the grades for everyone. She smiled when she said that she had received a B+ from Professor Grant. After highlighting that I received a perfect 100 on Professor Grant's final exam, Heidi told me that "I made her sick" and then she punched me I had in fact received A's in all my classes. . I did ask her if she wanted any more help with this quarter's chemistry class and she just stuck out her tongue.

Throughout the day, it took everything I had to take notes and engage in conversation, providing the illusion that nothing out of the ordinary had happened over the weekend. I simply could not get my mind to stop wondering what Erin had planned. Fortunately, no one asked me what I had me so distracted. Sarah had laid the groundwork for a story. We spent the weekend in because she wanted the company. It was plausible since Sarah had experienced a very unfortunate childhood. While the members of our circle didn't know it all, they knew enough to give her space. Furthermore, they knew what I did for her in high school, which is what made the two of us as close as we were. For Sarah to ask for a few days with me on her own wouldn't even raise an eyebrow.

Sarah joined Heidi, Tony, and me for our one o'clock chemistry class. I was more than slightly disappointed when I didn't see Erin at the front of the class. Even Heidi stated that she was hoping Professor Grant would be teaching this class as well. The man handing out syllabus pamphlets to the class introduced himself as Professor Collins. He was one of the professors who taught the biochemistry courses. I figured I had better pay attention since he would likely be my professor again in the future.

"Mr. Rhodes," he said.

"Yes sir," I replied.

"Please see me after class," he said stoically.

'Oh shit' I thought. Heidi and Sarah just looked at me. To say that I was distracted during the class would be like saying Moby Dick was a fish. Was this part of Erin's plan? Did someone know about our time together in her office? Did her plan backfire? My mind raced with the potential meanings that could be behind why Professor Collins would need to see me after class. Sarah leaned over more than once and told me to relax. Heidi told me if I didn't get my act together, I would have to use her notes for the day's lecture. Finally, it was the thought of Erin that allowed me to focus. I took a deep breath and I could almost hear her telling me to relax and concentrate on the task at hand. So I did.

As the class ended, I walked up to the front of the room. Professor Collins handed me a piece of paper and said, "Dean Tarayama would like to see you in her office at 3PM."

"Yes sir," I said and even I could hear the nervousness in my voice.

Sensing my discomfort, he added, "Dean Tarayama is tough, but for someone who managed to get through Professor Grant's final exam with a perfect score I don't think you have anything to worry about."

"Yeah, it was a tough exam," I acknowledged. "Wait, you know about that?"

"Knowing her the way I do, I am certain tough doesn't begin to cover it. I check the grades of all my incoming students. I want to know where they are at with the subject; that way I know what I will be working with during the quarter. I hope you'll be putting that kind of effort into my class."

"Absolutely sir," I replied.

"Good to hear it," he said while walking for the door. "See you on Wednesday."

I walked out the door behind him and found Sarah waiting for me.

"Heidi had to make her English class, but she is as curious as I am."

"I have to meet with Dean Tarayama at three," I replied solemnly.

"Do you know what's it about?" Sarah asked.

"No," I replied. "And that's what has me worried."

"Why?" Sarah asked.

She was quiet for a few seconds, then she just looked at me incredulously and leaned in to whisper, "That Friday was in her office wasn't it?"

I just nodded.

"Do you think someone knows?"

"To my knowledge, only three people do. I think Maria knows as well."

"Her friend from the club?"

Again I just nodded. Sarah walked with me to the student center and bought me something to drink. We then walked around the campus.

"I don't think anything is going to happen to you," she said as we walked.

I tilted my head towards her and looked at her. Sarah stopped and looked me right in the eyes.

"Justin, it may sound crazy but I think she would walk through fire for you."

"It doesn't sound crazy at all. Worse yet, I can see her falling on her sword to keep me out of it too."

"And that's what has you so worried," Sarah added.

We walked in silence to the chemistry building and continued to the dean's office. Just before we got there, Sarah hugged me and said that no matter what she was there for me. I just smiled. With all she shoulders, Sarah is one of the most giving friends I have ever known. I entered the reception area of the dean's office and told the woman behind the desk my name. She picked up the phone and announced my arrival. After hanging up, she told me to go in. As I walked into the dean's office, I felt my heart stop. There was Dean Tarayama, Professor Grant, and my dad. I was so screwed.

"Come in Justin," Dean Tarayama said.

I sat down in a chair next to my father.

"We've spent the last hour discussing this with your father and he has agreed with our decision," she continued.

'Discussing what?' I wanted to scream. The suspense to all of this was killing. I almost didn't care if I got kicked out of school; I just wanted to know what the hell was going on. It took everything I had not to look at Erin. I knew I would be able to tell what's coming if I could see her eyes for just one second. But I couldn't. I was too afraid what they would see in my eyes.

"At the recommendation of Professor Grant," she started and slid a piece of paper forward on the desk. "The University has agreed to this."

I picked up the paper and began reading through it to find something that would let me know what this was about. I skimmed over the date, my name, and my address. I stopped when I read "Subject: Employment Offer".

"Employment offer?" I said aloud.

"Congratulations son," my dad said.

I looked up at Dean Tarayama. I know she could see the shock in my eyes.

"The specific terms are spelled out in the employment offer, but in a nutshell you would be acting as both a research assistant and teacher's assistant to Professor Grant."

I looked over at Erin. She smiled and walked over to me.

"Congratulations Mr. Rhodes," she said extending her hand.

I stood up and shook her hand.

"Normally this kind of position is reserved for more senior students," Erin continued. "But after speaking to some of the other faculty, a few of your high school teachers, and your father, I believed that an exception should be made in this case and the Dean was inclined to agree."

"Your Mr. Jackson in particular was very persuasive," the dean added.

She then did a spot on impersonation of Mr. Jackson and said, "This pup has ... a wondrous capacity for understanding ... the complexities of the chemical sciences ... It would be an insult, I think ... to higher education ... if you passed this pup over ... simply due to his age."

Words could never portray just how closely Dean Tarayama mirrored both the voice and the inflections of Mr. Jackson. Randall Jackson had been was my high school chemistry teacher and the one person responsible for my passion in learning about chemistry. He called all of his students "pups" because he was over sixty years old, and every one of his "pups" knew of his unique manner of speaking. Think of Christopher Walken in front of a classroom and you are pretty close to the image. The man had a razor sharp mind and one of the quickest wits I have ever known. When I was a teacher's assistant for him during my senior year, I learned that he had multiple degrees in Chemistry including doctorate degrees in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He was a mentor to me and wrote the letter of recommendation that got me admitted to the university. It should have come as no surprise that he would continue to further my education wherever possible.

"I don't know what to say," I said.

"I for one am hopeful you will say 'yes' and accept the offer Mr. Rhodes," Erin said.

"Of course," I replied. "Just let me read it and I will sign it right now."

I quickly scanned the rest of the document. I was to be employed as a Level II Research Assistant. The pay was approximately $15 per hour, with workloads between 80 and 100 hours a month. My employment was contingent on maintaining a 3.2 GPA with a 3.5 in core chemistry classes. In addition, there would be annual reviews of my performance. I couldn't help but smile when I read who would be providing the reviews of my performance. Finally, upon a satisfactory review of that quarter's work and my meeting of the GPA requirements my school fees for that quarter would be refunded. I had no clue how Erin had managed to swing all of this, but I was certainly going to ask her later.

I signed the paper and handed it back to Dean Tarayama. She signed it and called her assistant in to have copies made. I just stood there in silence while they talked around me. I couldn't even recall what they were saying. Just like that, my life suddenly got much brighter. The financial burden that my family took on when I went to college was going to disappear. I was going to learn under another brilliant mentor. Most of all, I would have the freedom to continue with Erin. It was that thought that gave me the strength not to throw my arms around her and kiss in thanks for what she had just done. I could never betray her trust in me to keep our relationship a secret, let alone the faith she had just put in me with this opportunity. I smiled at that thought.

'I am in a relationship with Erin Grant.'

"Congratulations again Mr. Rhodes," Dean Tarayama said snapping me out of my thoughts.

She shook my hand and walked us all to the door. I walked out of the office with my father. I know he has always been proud of both my accomplishments and my choices but this was the first time something I had done would have a positive impact to the rest of my family. Over the past two years, I managed to save over $8,000 for school. That money would be gone by the end of June. The cost of going to this school was right at $1,400 per quarter. Add to that $400 in books each quarter, $100 in gas a month, plus some for food, and it averaged around $800 per month. I had turned over the part-time I had with Uncle Mike to Elizabeth as she needed to save for college as well. Mike had offered to employ me as a CAD technician during the summer, but even with that money, I was going to have to get some help from my parents to pay for school. This job was going to both provide a paycheck and be beneficial to my education. Furthermore, Mike's job offer could go to Elizabeth or my younger brother John. Suddenly my family was no longer shouldering any of the financial burden that my education represented. Although my dad would never say it, that money would go a long way with my siblings.

My only question now regarded when I would see Erin. I was going to have to work on finding a place near campus and I hope I could sell that idea to my parents. With all the hours I would be working plus studying, I hoped it would be an easy task.

"By the way," my dad said. "Professor Grant and Dean Taramaya both suggested you should move out here to be closer to campus."

I should have known that Erin would think of that as well.

"I absolutely agree with them," he said. "You spend over an hour a day driving back and forth and double that in traffic. Spending six to ten hours a week in the car is a waste of time. So I will talk to your mother and you concentrate on finding a place to live."

"Deal," I said with a smile.

"Mr. Rhodes," I heard Erin call after us.

"Yes," we both replied.

Erin just smiled. She addressed my father.

"I know you and Justin have a lot to discuss with your family tonight, but if you don't mind I would like to have him stay late tomorrow. We have an aggressive schedule ahead of us and I want to get a jump on the equipment purchases as well as some of his other responsibilities."

"Of course," he replied and looked at me.

"My last class tomorrow is a lab that goes from one to four."

"Perfect," Erin said. "Stop by my office when you are done and we'll go from there. Be prepared for a long evening though. As you may recall from last quarter, I expect nothing less than 100% from anyone who works for me."

"I'm up for the challenge," I replied.

"That's exactly what I wanted to hear Justin," she said while shaking my hand.

Turning to my father, she added, "Mr. Rhodes, again, thank you for taking the time off of work to come down here at such short notice."

"It was no trouble at all," he replied. "Believe me when I say, I should be thanking you for what you are doing for my son."

Erin walked away towards her office while my dad and I started in the other direction.

"So I hear you did a pretty gallant thing last week for her daughter," my dad said.

I just smiled. Sarah was waiting for me outside. At first she looked concerned when she saw my dad, but when she saw the smile on my face she knew everything was all right. She greeted him with a 'hi dad' and gave him a hug. As far as my parents were concerned, Sarah was family. She joined us as we walked with my father to his car. I filled her in on my new job and on my dinner plans tomorrow. My dad threw in the part about being 'prepared for a long evening' and laughed about how he thought Professor Grant would work me to the bone.

"Sarah I hate to impose," he started. "but Justin's mother always worries when he is driving late at night."

"It's no imposition at all. He always cleans my apartment spic-and-span, so it's like having a maid."

I just smiled as Sarah ran her hand through my hair.

"I have to get back to the office to finish a few things, but I will see you tonight when you get home."

"Bye dad," I said as Sarah said it with me.

As he drove off, Sarah just turned and stared at me.

"You're going to be working for Professor Grant?"

I just nodded.

"And you're going to be getting a place out here?"

I just nodded again.

"Well now that you are a working man, you owe me some dinner. Let's go pick up some Chinese and you can tell me all about the weekend."

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