Chapter 1: Sorry? Don’t be sorry.
As soon as she entered the house, she knew she was doomed.
The booming voice shouted, “Emma, room, now!” It belonged to the man she knew as her father.
Not in the mood to argue or be yelled at, she quickly walked to her room, her father following closely behind.
He shut the door on them and snatched her phone from her hand. “Hey! That belongs to me!”
“And you belong to me. So shut your mouth, unless you want another two or three bruises to hide.” Emma sighed, but she let him have his way. He opened her phone and began scrolling through it. “Who’s this? Professor… Higgins?”
She groaned. “ Hidgens , dad.”
“Why has he asked you to send a picture?” She internally facepalmed.
“It was just for an assignment. He asked us to write it by hand, but I got sick on the day we were supposed to turn it in. He told me to send him a picture of it.” Her father looked calmer, but still displeased.
“You’re pathetic. The only people you have in your phone is your mother and I and this old guy?” She grimaced and had to restrain herself from yelling.
Emma shrugged and decided to play to his ego. “I’ve just been too busy with work and college. And I thought you didn’t want me to talk to anyone that I didn’t have to.”
“You’re right, I don’t. You seem way too friendly with him for him to just be your professor. I don’t want to hear that you’re dating some weirdo.” Emma knew her father was a bit crazy, but to accuse her of dating her biology professor had taken it much too far.
She was already fuming. “How could you have the guts to accuse me of something like that? He’s just my teacher! Now please give me my phone back.” Emma tried to stay calm, and once her father left, she let out a sigh of relief.
She flopped down on her bed and opened her phone. Already, she had received a text from her dad telling her to drop his class. She quickly responded that she couldn’t drop it until the end of the semester, even though it was a complete lie. With her degree and the professor being the only biology teacher, she would be seeing him until she finished school.
Emma sighed at her life and current situation, but something told her that it would all be better soon.
The next morning, she dragged herself to biology. Hidgens spoke at the end of class.
“Emma, please come see me for a moment.” The class looked at her horrified face. She truly thought she was in trouble. “You aren’t in trouble.”
She bounded down the stairs. “What’s up?”
“You seem really off today. You’ve never been this distracted before.” She instinctively looked down at her toes.
“Sorry.” She started to play with her fingers. “I just… was thinking’ about last night.”
“Oh?” Emma silently dismissed the topic. “Well, is there anything I can do to help you?”
She shook her head. “You can’t send my parents to jail, can you?”
His head shot up to her increasingly red face. “Come, sit down. Emma, dear, tell me what’s wrong.”
Emma sat down and the professor took a seat next to her.
“Well,” She started, “I am not getting along very well with my parents. They always say they want me to be home but when I am, it’s all yelling. I had to move in with them after I came back. I lived in Guatemala for twelve years, and then I just... I came back. I don’t know why… but after my sister died on her way to visit me, I had to come back. And after years and years in Guatemala, I didn’t have any other option. So, my parents are letting me stay with them. But I feel controlled. They look through my phone, they track where I am, they threaten to kick me out if I don’t do what they say… I’m scared.”
He cautiously placed his hand on her shoulder and when she flinched, he snapped his hand back as if she had burned it. “Alright, so now I believe I understand what’s going on here.”
“I really don’t think you do, you’re probably imagining something much worse.” She pulled up the sleeve of her shirt and revealed a nasty bruise a dark shade of blue.
He reached out, and with a featherlight touch, he brushed his fingers over Emma’s shoulder. She shivered and pulled her shirt sleeve back down to hide it again.
“Dear, where did you get that from?”
She bit her lip before responding, “Um, ‘m not supposed to tell you anything else.”
He felt that he now completely understood what was going on. “Okay. Are you sure you’re doing okay?” The professor turned to Emma and saw she was silently crying into her hands. “Oh, Emma, dear.” He wrapped her shaking figure in his arms. He took her hand, something he should’ve asked before doing, but she seemed to appreciate it.
“Your hands are cold.” She whispered. He knew they would be. When he was younger, kids in school never wanted to touch him because they were afraid they’d freeze.
“I know, I’m sorry.” It wasn’t a very apologetic tone, but Emma detected that he wasn’t being sarcastic. “I’m upset with your family.”
She sighed. “I know. But what else can I do? My dad is constantly monitoring me. He saw your number in my phone and immediately assumed we were…well, I think you get it.” She trailed off, embarrassed.
He rubbed his hand around her back to soothe her. He hushed his voice to more of a whisper. “Emma, dear, I don’t want you to go into work like this.”
“How’d you know I have work?” He gave a sad smile, although it couldn’t be seen by Emma.
“I just figured that you’d try to avoid being at home.” She nodded. “Let me call you in. You really don’t look well.” Too tired to argue, she handed over her phone. “Thank you.”
After a few minutes of talking between the professor and her boss, he ended the phone call and said, “Now why don’t we get you something to eat?”
“Oh, professor, I couldn’t.”
He stood up and before he completely exited he turned and said, “No, no, I insist. I think I have a sandwich in my office. I’ll be back.”
Quickly arriving back, the professor handed her a ham and cheese sandwich, which she gratefully unwrapped and began eating. She swallowed a bite and said, “Thank you… so much.”
“Oh, sweetheart, it’s no trouble at all. Once you get to be my age, you'll find that you’ll have nobody left to care for.” She looked up from her hands at the professor.
“I’m sorry…” The professor laughed. “I can imagine how it feels to have absolutely nobody.”
He nodded, patting her shoulder. “You don’t have anyone? Classmates? Customers? Coworkers?” She shook her head and sniffed. “Emma, I’m so sorry.”
“It alright… It’s just lonely.” Hidgens smiled at her, almost in awe. This girl in front of him was normally stone cold, and here she was, spilling out her entire life to him.
He smiled at her, feeling some sort of fatherly instinct towards the vulnerable girl sitting next to him. “It’s okay, you’re alright.” He wrapped his arms around her, expecting her to pull back, however, she did not.
Her tears had now dried, and she smiled. Hidgens heard a faint pinging. He looked over and it was angry messages from her father. For now, he decided to ignore it.
How much more wrong could he have been?
Minutes later, a man stormed into the professor’s room. “WHERE IS SHE?” He yelled, and the professor jumped. Emma pulled herself away from Hidgens’s embrace. “You, sir, are gross.” He turned to the now cowering girl. “And you, what do you have to say for yourself?”
“I’m sorry, dad.” She whispered, looking for comfort but receiving it from no one.
He shook his head. “Your behavior is unacceptable, Emma. Can’t you see this man doesn’t have time for you? Apologize.” He stepped forward and grabbed her arm, forcing her to stand and face the professor.
She sighed, embarrassed and said, “I’m sorry for wasting your time, professor.” This was the smallest voice he’d ever heard Emma speak in.
He was going to say something comforting, but as he opened his mouth to speak, Emma shook her head and he closed his mouth.
“Good girl. You’re going to work, and you aren’t to stay after class anymore.” He dragged her away, and she didn’t even look back at him.
Hidgens was scared for her. He was never worried or nervous, but this was a rare occasion, something he hadn’t experienced before.
However, the professor still didn’t know if he was more nervous because it was a student he really cared for or if it was because he hadn’t ever experienced something this horrible.
Emma arrived at work, but her father made the mistake of leaving her there. Zoey was shocked at Emma’s arrival. Her shift didn’t start for a few hours.
“Hey, Zoey, is it alright if I start now? I’m in a bit of a tough spot at the moment.” Zoey nodded.
Before Emma could disappear to the backroom, Zoey called out, “Emma? I know I’m a jerk, but I am here to listen if you ever need it.”
Emma grinned. “Thank you, Zoey.”
She returned with her apron and took her spot at the counter. She looked at the door, and she thought she must have been hallucinating.
A tall man walked through the door, and without a doubt, it was Professor Hidgens.
The professor was surprised to see her, however, he was happy to see that she was completely unharmed.
“Professor, please go. I don’t want my dad to come in and see you.” She begged, handing him his tea. He showed discomfort at leaving her again, but he nodded and left. “I’m sorry,” She called, even though she was completely aware that he couldn’t hear her.
She tiptoed into her bedroom, hoping neither of her parents would notice her. A text came in for her as soon as she flopped down onto her bed. It was from the professor.
It read, ‘Are you okay? What happened?’ She sighed, and responded.
‘I’m okay, just a little shaken up.’ Emma rubbed her bruise.
‘Can you talk for a little while?’ She nodded, quickly realising it wouldn’t translate through text.
The pair texted throughout the night and were both still awake. They realized how late, early maybe, it was. The sun had already risen, and the light was shining through the cracks of Emma’s window.
He told her that he’d see her in class and she rubbed her eyes, standing up and grabbing clothes from her closet.
Her mother knocked on her door. “Emma, why were you up so late?”
“It’s none of your business,” She retaliated, still pulling clothes to throw over her work uniform.
Her mother stalked into her room. “Give me your phone,” She demanded, holding out her hand.
“No! I’m an adult, I don’t have to give anything to you.” Her mother crossed her arms over her chest.
“Fine, if you’re an adult, you can pay for your own house. Pack your stuff and get out of my home!” She yelled. Emma was actually struck dumb.
Her mom left her room silently, and Emma began to pack up her things. For the final time, she left her parents’ house.
She showed up in class, apparently she’d been crying. Hidgens took in a shaky breath. “Emma, dear, please speak to me after class.” Emma slouched in her seat.
The lecture went by much too quickly. She was scared to explain that she was now homeless to her favorite professor and best friend.
She sighed at the end of his lecture, ready to cry and watch him be disappointed in her.
“Okay,” She said, as the students cleared out. “I’m just going to say it. My mom kicked me out, and now I’m… homeless. Again.” He gasped, clapping his hands to his mouth.
“Emma, I wish you’d’ve told me how awful it really was. I’m so sorry, I thought it was just the bruise thing!” Emma opened her mouth to talk, but was interrupted by the professor. “I mean, I don’t think that the bruise thing wasn’t bad, it’s just I--”
“Hidgens!” She yelled, he stopped his rambling to listen to her. “It’s okay! I was hiding it from you! I was hiding it from everyone!” His silence saddened Emma. He normally had some sort of remark to comfort her. “I was barely hiding anything, you’re just the only one who cared to look.”
He sighed. “Emma, if you ever need a place to stay, my home is always open to you. Always, alright?” Emma nodded, stepping closer to him and grabbing his cold hands.
“I appreciate the offer, I really do, but I could never intrude on you like that.” His mouth hung open, in a most likely sad manner. “But thank you. Thank you for being so kind to me, but I don’t think I can keep taking your classes anymore.” Her voice broke and tears welled up in her eyes which she frantically rubbed away.
He was not hesitant to cry. “I know, and I’m so sorry.”
“Goodbye, professor.” She hesitated, but let go of his hands and hugged him tightly.
He hugged her back, just as tightly. “I don’t want to say goodbye to you, Emma.” He whined.
“I don’t want to say goodbye, either.” She whispered.
“I’ll still visit you at work,” The professor rubbed her back, trying to comfort the sad and shaking girl.
She nodded and sobbed harder into his chest. “I’ll take my lunch so I can still talk to you.”
Hidgens sighed. “I’m really going to miss you, dear.”
“I’m not leaving Hatchetfield, I promise.” She grabbed his hands again and rubbed her fingers over them.
“I know. I’m just really going to miss you.” She nodded.
“I have to get going. Goodbye, professor.” Emma let go of him and picked up her suitcase. She left without a word.
That night, the professor was driving home from work and he passed Oakly Park. He saw a limp figure underneath a bench. Whoever or whatever it was looked very small. He wondered whether or not it was right to go check on the person or thing to see if they were alive.
He decided it was best to check, and upon further inspection, he saw that it was none other than Emma.
She was asleep, but her work uniform wasn’t keeping her too warm. It was probably best for him to not take her home, so he shed his jacket and placed it over her shoulders.
Instinctively, he brushed her hair out of her face, but quickly pulled his hand back, realizing how creepy that might seem if she were to wake up.
He drove home and decided to hand write her a letter to drop off for her at her workplace.
With shaking hands, he slipped the envelope to her along with his payment for his tea.
“When you’re off work, I’d like you to read this,” He instructed. She nodded, taking the letter and placing it in the pocket of her apron.
As she returned to the bench, she took the letter from the envelope and read it over and over.
He had begged her to stay with him until she was able to pay for her own house.
With tears in her eyes, she made her way to the edge of town to ring the bell on his gate. It took him a minute to open the door for her. “Emma? Is that you?”
“Yes!” She called. The gates swung open and he greeted her at the door with a hug.
“I take it you read the letter?” Emma smiled at him. “And you’re willing to stay with me?” Emma grinned, the widest he ever seen.
“Just promise that you’ll tell me if I’m not bothering you.” He nodded, silently offering to take her bag for her. She handed it to him, but the girl didn’t know whether or not she should follow him.
“Oh! Um, I’ll show you where your room is.” He gestured for her to follow him. He led her up a narrow staircase with many creaking stairs.
He showed her to the room on the left which he said was hers. She thanked him repeatedly, and he left to give her some space.
She didn’t bother unpacking, instead, she flopped down onto the bed and sighed. Emma stared at the ceiling, questioning how she was going to get out of her horrible situation.
While considering every possible option, she did acknowledge that she’d be completely hopeless if it weren’t for the professor’s aid.
Emma planned to save to get herself an apartment. Working minimum wage, 9.45 dollars per hour, she figured that she’d be able to afford an apartment quite soon.
She rubbed her temples, she was acing biology, not math. However, she knew that if she worked overtime or picked up more shifts, she’d be out of there in no time.
“Emma, come downstairs, please!” The professor called. She opened the door and carefully stepped down the stairs which seemed to be yelling at her, based on how loud they were creaking.
She found the professor in a room which she assumed was the kitchen. “Hello,” Emma said, not quite knowing what else could be said.
“I did realize you’re going to need transportation. I don’t expect you to walk thirteen miles when you have to get to work,” He said, flipping the pages of a book he was reading. She shook her head.
“It’s totally fine, actually. I know you have classes to get to, so I don’t mind the walk. I walked everywhere everyday for twelve years in Guatemala.” Emma insisted.
He was quite taken aback, and looked up from his book. “What does it matter? These streets are dangerous.”
“Hidgens, I lived alone in Guatemala! I know how to take care of myself!”
He put down the book. “This isn’t Guatemala, Emma! This is Hatchetfield.” A moment of silence hung in the air. Emma hadn’t ever heard him yell before.
She lowered her voice to a whisper, “I’m not a child. I thought you’d be different, but you’re treating me like a child, just like my parents did.” Emma turned around and ran back to the bedroom.
Emma tried her hardest not to cry but she gave in and felt hot tears running down her face. She’d always been a silent crier, but the man knew better. He knocked on her door, and with no response, he slowly opened the door.
“Emma, I’m so sorry.” She couldn’t bring it about herself to respond to him. “I am so sorry.”
She wiped her eyes with the palm of her hand. “It’s not your fault.” She paused to gasp, shakily. “You didn’t know how I felt about it.”
“I just wanted you to be safe. But you’re right. You are an adult.” Hidgens placed his hand over hers.
She nodded and smiled. “You were just trying to keep me safe, but I know how to do that myself.” The man rubbed his fingers over her hand absentmindedly.
“If you really want to walk, I won’t be the one to stop you.”