Chapter 6

       When Michael awoke the next morning, he felt horrible. He had an awful migraine, was running a fever, and his stomach felt queasy. For the first time since he started teaching, he had to call out sick.

       After calling the university to let them know that he would be taking a leave of absence, he dialed up Raven's number. He needed a few things from the store but was too weak to walk, let alone drive.

       "Hey, Raven, this is Michael."

       "I know who it is, silly. Is everything alright?" she asked concernedly, noticing that his voice sounded a bit off.

       "Um, not really. I won't be teaching today... I think I have a virus or something. Would you mind picking me up a few things from the store? I'm too weak to drive there myself."

       Raven sucked her teeth. "God! Men are such babies when they get sick. I'm sorry Michael, but I have plans, is there anyone else that can go for you?"

       "You know what, it's alright. I'll manage somehow," he spoke sourly, hanging up the phone.

       Feeling dejected, Michael called up a few other people that he knew, but unfortunately, he couldn't reach anyone.  

        Although he had been living in Baltimore for a few years now, he didn't have a lot of friends, and who could blame him? After being lied to and stabbed in the back many times throughout the years, he was more selective about who he befriended these days.

       As the day wore on, he began to feel worse by the minute. This was the first time that he had become extremely sick since being completely on his own. But despite his dire situation, he wouldn't trade it for the world. He loved being independent; he loved being free. 

       Within the short span of seven years, he had gone from Michael Jackson, 'the entertainer who felt like a prisoner of his fame,' to Dr. Michael Black, 'the music professor' that was free to come and go as he pleased.

        And while there were still people that went a little wild when they saw him out and about, it was nothing compared to the mass hysteria that he used to experience years ago. Asides from being asked for the occasional autograph, or having his picture taken every once in a while, people usually respected his space and left him alone.

       As he slowly swung his long legs over the bed, he grumbled. "Well, the only way you're gonna get medicine and Gatorade is to take your ass to the store your damn self."

       After getting dressed, locking up his home, and painfully trudging his way to his car, he was just about to drive off when Raven pulled up behind him.

       "My-my... look who's here?" he scoffed when Raven walked up beside his car.

       With his hands placed weakly on the steering wheel, he kept his eyes straight ahead as she spoke. "Michael honey, where are you going?"

       "To the store," he replied coldly, "now if you'll excuse me, I'll be on my way."

       Taking in his weakened appearance, she spoke firmly. "Get out of the car Michael! You shouldn't be attempting to drive anywhere."

       "And what do you care?" he hissed, "when I asked you earlier if you could pick me up a few things, you basically blew me off."

       "Yes, I know... And I'm truly sorry about that. Can we please discuss this inside? I did manage to pick you up a few things from the store," she smiled as she held up a brown paper bag.

       Deciding that now was not the time to be stubborn, he stepped slowly out of his car, but in doing so, he lost his balance.

        "Oh, my God! Raven shrieked, as she tossed the grocery bag to the ground whilst simultaneously catching him in her arms.

       "Forget about me and save the groceries! I need those," he teased.

       "Michael! Now is not the time for jokes! Are you Ok?"

    Pulling out of her arms, he steadied himself on his feet. "Yeah-yeah, I'm just a little dizzy. I haven't had anything to drink all day. I'm feeling a bit dehydrated."

      "Well, come on, let's get you inside the house. You've over-exerted yourself, it seems."

       "You think?" he laughed sarcastically.

       Once they were inside, Raven made him lie down on the sofa while she took his temperature. "Michael, I think you should see a doctor. You have a one hundred and one-degree fever!"

       Waving her off, he replied. "I don't need a doctor! Just rest and hydration. Can you get me something to drink, please?"

       Raven rolled her eyes and retorted. "Why are you so damn stubborn? The flu is nothing to play with!"

       Twisting his lips, he muttered, "Whatever. I'm not going to the hospital for a cold, the flu, a virus, or whatever the hell this is, and don't you have plans for tonight?"

       Passing him a glass of orange Gatorade, his favorite. She caressed the side of his face and said, "I canceled it. Despite what you may think of me, I actually do care about you."

       "Look, Raven. There aren't too many people I trust or call friends these days. When you blew me off earlier, that really hurt me."

       "I know Michael, and once again, I'm sorry, but that's because----" 

       "That's because what? Go on... I'm listening."

       Actually, can we discuss this at another time? You're sick. You need to get some rest," she spoke softly." 

       For a split second, she thought about telling him of how much he was breaking her heart, but she decided not to. She had always prided herself on not becoming weak for any man. Or at least not making it known to the guy himself. She never wanted any man to feel like he held power over her, including Michael. But Michael wasn't any regular man. He was smart, sweet, funny, and extremely handsome. Everything that a woman could possibly want in a guy.

       When Raven met Michael for the first time three years ago, she never understood why the media treated him the way they did. He was an incredible man. And damn near every female professor had a crush on him. 

        She was the envy of all her fellow woman colleagues.

        And although they were just good friends, albeit, with benefits, it wasn't as if it was unknown. Everyone on campus knew they were fucking, or at least heard rumors that they were. In the beginning, being his sex partner was fine. They had a mutual understanding of their relationship, and she was fine with it, but over time, she started developing deeper feelings for him. She wanted more than sex; she wanted love.

      After pouring Michael a cup of Nyquil, she brought it to his lips. "Here, drink this," she spoke flatly.

       As he drank the bright red, sticky liquid, he scrunched his face and coughed. "God! I hate that stuff."

      "I know you do, but it'll make you feel better," she huffed, patting him lightly on his chest.

        Just as Raven stood up from the couch, Michael grabbed her by the hand and said, "thank-you."

      While he was still hurt from earlier, he knew that Raven had a good heart. Deep down, he knew that her blowing him off had more so to do with him not wanting to be more than friends. And though it was a conversation they had plenty of times before, he needed to be more specific. He needed to be completely clear with her as to why he could never love her.


***     

       The next morning when Symphony arrived at music-theory class, she was quite surprised to see that Dr. Black had a sub filling in for him. Not once during their meet-up from last night did he make any mention of being absent. While Symphony knew he had no obligation to tell her his schedule, she still became a little worried.  

       From what she knew of Dr. Black, or rather from what she heard, it seemed a little out of character for him. He hadn't missed a day of teaching during his three years of tenure and was never more than five minutes late.

       "I hope he's ok," Symphony spoke silently to herself, wishing there was a way she could check on him. For a split second, she thought about asking the sub why he wasn't teaching but didn't want to overstep her boundaries.

      After concluding that she shouldn't be privy to such private information about her professor, she decided to check her email. She had arrived to class a bit earlier than usual and had some time to spare.

      As she was scrolling through her inbox, she noticed that she had two messages from Dr. Black. One was addressed to his students as a whole, and the other was sent to her solely. As she read the first message, she began to frown.


[Dear Students,


Due to my contracting the dreaded influenza virus, it's with great regret that I inform you of my inability to teach classes for the next couple of weeks. But rest assured! I have arranged for a guest lecturer to fill in for me while I'm away and have provided him with specific lesson plans so that we can keep up-to-date with the curriculum.


Sincerely, Dr. Black]


       Before moving onto the second email, she shook her head sideways as she spoke with deep concern. "Oh, no! The flu is said to be horrible this year. I hope he's not experiencing the worst of it! But goodness... Does he ever take a break? The man is sick, and here he is still doling out lesson plans."

       Placing her hand over her heart in great sympathy for him, she began reading the next message that he'd directed at her exclusively.


[Hello Ms. Wilson,


I just wanted to tell you once more that I really enjoyed discussing music with you last night. I was so looking forward to the lesson that I had planned for today... It was going to be all about Tchaikovsky's use of augmented sixth chords. I thought about having the guest lecturer give the lesson, but honestly, I don't think they could have handled its complexity, so it'll have to wait until I return. Please take care of yourself, and I hope to see you soon.


PS: It's you that should be teaching the class while I'm away. I'm sure you'd do a much better job than my stand-in, but Shhh! Don't tell him I said that."


Sincerely, Dr. Black]

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