Shivering, I knock on Professor Vesci's door, silently hoping he's inside, and that he opens the door before the tears welling in my eyes spill over. I do not want to be crying out here in the hallway where everyone can see. I won't give them that. Never mind the million eyes watching my dripping back.
"Yes...?" The professor opens up, his expression curious. Then he sees me and gasps, ushering me inside while fretting over my drenched state. "Caleb, caro mio, what happened? You are dripping! You will catch a cold!" He shuts the door behind me, leading me by the arm into his office, past the art tables. "Take off as much as you can, I will bring you a change of clothes from my car. Soggiorno qui!"
"I-I just need to dry off quickly!" I call out after him, but the words are lost--he's already out the exit door, running to his car, parked right outside. The heavy door closes, leaving me in the dimly lit office of his. Although I came here because I knew he wouldn't mind helping me, I don't want to be a burden...the first art class of the day is about to start soon, and I only wanted to ask if he could give me a ride home at lunchtime after I dry off a bit.
Glancing around the office, I shuffle towards a corner, putting my messenger bag at the foot of the desk to save it from further water damage. I sigh shakily, peeling off my hoodie and hanging it near the fan by the blinded window so it can dry. I don't want to stay here and be a bother, but I can't go anywhere like this, soaking wet. Luckily, I finished all my essays and turned them in yesterday...though my trigonometry homework is probably a splosh of ink. I look down at my hands, and feel the first wave of relief crash over me. Tears spill down my cheeks, leaving a hot trail that only amplifies the awareness of my freezing temperature. The aching sense of dread still clings to my chest like a bad case of heartburn.
For as long as I can remember, I've been afraid of drowning. I can't swim to save my life (or anyone else's, for that matter), and to have my face dunked under water repeatedly... A sob scrapes out from my throat, just as the heavy exit door squeals on opening. Attempting to hide my tears, I duck my head, pressing knuckles to my bottom lip.
"Caro mio, I have returned! Here, here, change quickly, before you get sick!" Professor Vesci tugs at my hands, setting the change of clothes he's brought down on his desk chair. He stops when he sees my face. "Caleb?" He questions, lifting my chin.
Embarrassed to be caught crying, I rub my hand across my face. "S-sorry...I just...nerves...that's all." I offer up a watery smile, trying to brush off the concern in his eyes. "Really...I have this stupid fear and..."
"Caleb, you have nothing to be ashamed of." Professor Vesci smiles, wrapping his arms around my sopping shoulders. "My dear student, I do not want you to ever be embarrassed around me. You are much like a son to me. I will not scorn you." He wipes away the trail of tears, reaching back to pull a warm towel around my shoulders. "You may stay here however long you need. I need but start a lecture for the incoming class, and then I shall return to be with you, si?"
I swallow hard, nodding. "Of course, Professor."
He raps me on the forehead, "That is Leonzio to you, figlio mio." He draws the blinds on the other two windows at the front of his office, then turns, propping his fists on his hips. "I will be back shortly. I want those drenched clothes to be in that bag," he looks pointedly to a plastic bag wedged between the top drawer and the desk, "and you warming up by the computer. It is a good heater, you will see, though not good for much else. I'll bring you some soup from the kitchen when the lunch bell rings, si?"
"Yes, Leonzio," I pout.
"Bene, bene. I will be back!" He grins brightly, leaving the office just as the closing bell rings.
I sigh again, looking over at the pile of clothes. He could be too kind, sometimes...even lending me some of the clothes he uses to change into after his favorite run around the school park...and now he's going to buy me lunch. Sometimes I wonder what I did to become such good friends with a silly, fatherly art teacher.