And with that, he breathes out. I can imagine the smile of relief on his face, the creases in the corners of his eyes. “That’s all I need to hear,” he says.
Back at the concierge desk, I bring up Facebook, type “Taylor Birch” in the search bar, and her profile fills the screen. I scroll through the sparse public content I’ve scrutinized for years, the photos and life updates, and now, at the top, the post about Strane. The numbers still climb—438 shares now, 1.8k likes, plus new comments, more of the same.
This is so inspiring.
I’m in awe of your strength.
Keep speaking your truth, Taylor.
When Strane and I met, I was fifteen and he was forty-two, a near perfect thirty years between us. That’s how I described the difference back then—perfect. I loved the math of it, three times my age, how easy it was to imagine three of me fitting inside him: one of me curled around his brain, another around his heart, the third turned to liquid and sliding through his veins.
At Browick, he said, teacher-student romances were known to happen from time to time, but he’d never had one because, before me, he’d never had the desire. I was the first student who put the thought in his head. There was something about me that made it worth the risk. I had an allure that drew him in.
[ Return to the review of “My Dark Vanessa.” ]
It wasn’t about how young I was, not for him. Above everything else, he loved my mind. He said I had genius-level emotional intelligence and that I wrote like a prodigy, that he could talk to me, confide in me. Lurking deep within me, he said, was a dark romanticism, the same kind he saw within himself. No one had ever understood that dark part of him until I came along.
“It’s just my luck,” he said, “that when I finally find my soul mate, she’s fifteen years old.”
“If you want to talk about luck,” I countered, “try being fifteen and having your soul mate be some old guy.”
He checked my face after I said this to make sure I was joking—of course I was. I wanted nothing to do with boys my own age, their dandruff and acne, how cruel they could be, cutting girls up into features, rating our body parts on a scale of one to ten. I wasn’t made for them. I loved Strane’s middle-aged caution, his slow courtship. He compared my hair to the color of maple leaves, slipped poetry into my hands—Emily, Edna, Sylvia. He made me see myself as he did, a girl with the power to rise with red hair and eat him like air. He loved me so much that sometimes after I left his classroom, he lowered himself into my chair and rested his head against the seminar table, trying to breathe in what was left of me. All of that happened before we even kissed. He was careful with me. He tried so hard to be good.