“You want me to what?” The words stumble out of my mouth and I raise my eyebrow, hoping to convey just how much I’m confused at the words he just said.
He takes off his glasses, rubbing his eyes vigorously with the tips of his fingers. I let him sit with what I’ve asked, not wanting to frustrate him any more than I already have. Hopefully, giving him a few moments without my voice will lead him to re-think what he’s requesting of me.
“Isabella, you have to prove how much you want this.”
My stomach drops as I hear what he says. He hasn’t reconsidered; he’s doubling down. “What does me interviewing Shadows Sampson have to do with any of this?”
“Shadows isn’t even his name, Isabella.” He’s looking at me over the frame of his glasses now, his brown eyes staring deep into my soul.
They look as worn out as I feel. I’ve given everything to this paper the entire four years I’ve been at this school. This right here? It feels like a huge betrayal. Like everything I’ve held close to me, all the pieces of my soul that were wrapped in this have been completely shattered; scattered against the ground like glass shards.
“What is his name then, Pete?” I speak to him in the same tone he used to speak to me.
He sighs deeply, looking at me pointedly. “You’re lucky we were friends before I became your professor. No one else would put up with this attitude.”
“It isn’t an attitude. I’m asking you a legit question. What’s his real name?”
“That’s one of the things you’ll learn in the interview.” He leans back in his chair, steepling his fingers together. “You’ve coasted through the past almost-four years here, and it’s time for you to show me what you’re made of.”
My stomach drops. I’m here on a scholarship, the first in my family to get more than a fucking GED. I’ll hold onto my future with my nails digging trenches into the dirt. Tilting my head to the side, I shoot him a death glare. I haven’t coasted in any type of way. I’ve paid my dues, done everything each editor of this paper before me has done. “So you’re threatening me with my degree? Need I remind you of all the accomplishments we’ve received while I’ve been editor-in-chief?”
“Let’s be honest with one another. Most of those accomplishments had the groundwork laid before you showed up. You and I both know all you had to do was keep the status quo. You brought nothing new to the table. What I’m telling you is that if you want to graduate with your Bachelor’s in Communications, you need to prove to me you can do the hard work – even if this particular story isn’t considered hard work for you.”
“It’s not considered a sport to me,” I argue. “And that’s not what I’m going into Journalism for, Pete. I don’t have this great dream to write about the next MMA star.”
“It’s human interest, Isabella. Who’s to say you’ll be able to get the job you want? When you’re out there in the big, bad world, things aren’t always what they seem. What if the only job available is at the local newspaper for the sports section? Will you tell them no? How will you live? And all of us in this business know that word gets around. If you give up more than one job, you won’t get offers anymore. You know it’s true.”
A part of me wants to say I would tell them no. I would keep my pride and refuse to do things that compromise my belief system. There’s a stubbornness in my mind that wants to argue I’d be the exception rather than the rule. At the same time, I know I have to eat, and my parents will expect me to pay my own bills once I graduate. They’ve floated me while I’ve been here, and they’ve been more than clear that once I have that piece of paper in my hand, it’s all on me. What he’s saying does make sense, even though I hate to admit it. “Are you setting up the interview for me?”
He chuckles before taking a drink of his water. “Negative. You’re going to do this all on your own, from contacting him, to securing the interview. I’m wishing you luck though, because in the seven years I’ve known him, he’s never given an interview. He’d prefer to not speak, rather than. It’s going to take a miracle to get him to talk to you in the first place.”
“I feel like you’re setting me up for failure, and I don’t appreciate it.” I’m beginning to think the worst. It’s hard knowing everything is stacked against me. I’ve never been in a situation like this before, and it’s uncomfortable.
“Failure isn’t an option, Isabella. Any work you’ve done previous to this doesn’t matter, it won’t even count. You’re entire grade rides on what you do in this moment.”
He drops another fucking bomb. This one I really hadn’t expected.
“That’s not fair,” I whisper, trying to push the heaviness out of my chest and the tightness out of my throat. Every single thing I’ve worked for is disappearing right before my eyes.
Pete levels me with his gaze. “Life isn’t fair, and as soon as you realize that, the better off you’ll be. This isn’t an easy job. Why do you think I’m a professor at a college instead of off in the warzone? As humans we do what we have to in order to survive, and I’m telling you, this is what you have to do.”
I sigh heavily, finally facing and understanding the obstacles he’s laying down in front of me. “Just so you know, I resent you for this.”
“It’s okay if you resent me,” he drops his pen on his desk, folding his hands in front of his chin. “I’m trying to get your prepared for reality, something I wish others had done when I was in your shoes. You understand?”
“Yeah,” I spit as I cross my arms over my chest. “I guess I get you’re trying to make me a better person and a good journalist, but this feels like a personal attack. I have to be honest with you.”
“You gonna be able to do it?”
“Is there really an option that I don’t?” I question, giving him a look of death, wishing with everything I have that it would cause him to expire right on the spot. “I’ve not gone to school for four years to get this damned close to have you pull it away from me.”
“I’m not pulling it away from you; you’ll be pulling it away.”
Inside I’m fuming, absolutely ready to stop right now and give up everything I’ve worked for, but I have to keep my cool. “How long do I have to accomplish this?”
“Six weeks, from start to finish.”
“Six weeks?!” I parrot back at him, feeling that pit in my stomach increase into a damn crater.
“I didn’t stutter, right? There are seven weeks until this semester is over, and you need to have everything turned in to me with enough time for me to grade it.”
“But we have this semester and next before I graduate. I’ve known you long enough to know you typically grade both of them together. I feel like you’ve decided to fuck me over, Professor.” Any other teacher I wouldn’t say those words to, but this one? He knows me better than anyone else. He knows my dreams and what I want to accomplish. It’s almost as if it’s impossible.
“You tell me you don’t think you’re up to it, I’ll fail you right now. You can do this, Isabella. Don’t disappoint me.”
If there’s anything I hate, it’s someone telling me I’ll fail. I’ve worked hard to be where I am in life, and I’ll be damned if I let anything stand in my way. Not to mention pulling the disappointment card was a low fucking blow. “I’m up to it. I’ll give you the best interview you’ve ever read in your life.”
“I’m expecting that from you. Go out there and get it.”
He turns away from me, and I know at this moment I’m dismissed. Grabbing my purse and bag, I shoulder them both before getting up and leaving the office. It’s taken everything I have to hold my shit together, but no more.
Once I’m outside, I let my cheeks heat and the flush of anger flow over my body. This is the stuff I do my best to keep in, to not allow others to see, but dammit, I’m pissed right now.
It’s a long haul down the hill to student parking. If I thought I could make it without falling on my face, I’d take off at a run and get rid of all these feelings inside my chest. But I haven’t run in at least two years, and I don’t want anyone having to call the ambulance on me because I’ve about killed myself. When I see my SUV, I pick up the pace, ready to get inside so I can let loose with the tears clogging up my throat. Beeping the doors, I fumble, opening the driver’s side as quickly as I can. Tossing my bag and purse in the passenger seat, I crank the heat and rest my forehead against the steering wheel, finally letting the tears fall.