ST. NICK COMES TO CHRISTMAS TOWN
CHRISTMAS TOWN ROMANCE SERIES (BOOK 2)
Nick Santino felt like running, jumping, and pumping his fist in the air, but he tried to maintain an air of decorum as he crossed the university campus. I need to act dignified. I’m faculty now. Imagine that! Well, a master’s candidate, graduate assistant, quasi-professor, but I have a lab class of my own. That’s a start.
Dr. Wallace had promised Nick a lab section when he served last term as an assistant in the professor’s lecture course, checking attendance and grading papers. Then they’d seen an unexpected drop in enrollment, and the department questioned whether they’d fill all the labs they’d scheduled. This morning Nick had received his answer, along with the tentative roll for his class and the computer codes to access his online course files.
He took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. I wonder what Nonno and Nonna will think? He could almost see the pride on their faces and he promised himself that, as soon as he could, he’d call his family—grandparents, parents, his brother Sandro—to tell them his good news. They could spread the word to the extended family.
His great-grandparents had emigrated from Italy at the end of the First World War. They bought a small olive orchard in the Sacramento Valley and turned it into a success story, their orchard growing and thriving, their specialty products sold in boutique shops around the state.
While some of his aunts and uncles had changed their name to sound more “American,” his grandfather and dad had kept Santino, an Italian word meaning “little Saint,” teaching their family to be proud of their roots. Nick’s brother, Sandro, had brought honor to the family name with a successful career in banking. Now he could bring honor as a member of the adjunct university faculty.
Two of his cousins in addition to Nick had graduated with bachelor’s degrees, but he—Nicholas Giovanni Santino—would be the first in the family with a graduate degree, the first to reach this level of professionalism, the first to beat the academic game under its own rules.
And the first at this school to open the eyes of malleable young people, to help them deal with the changing world of media. I can hardly wait!
Kiley turned onto the main highway, down the mountain, toward the valley and the university campus. She’d planned her route to give her enough time to get to her first class—newswriting lab at 10:00 a.m. On her previous trips to campus, she’d realized that her parking pass constituted a hunting license, with no guarantee of success. But she’d scoped out a route and discovered an out-of-the-way lot that she hoped would be her best bet. A few minutes later, she switched on the car radio and groaned as she heard the tail-end of a local news report announcing that detour signs had been set up at the university due to road work which included repaving the largest, central parking lot on campus. This meant even her out-of-the-way lot might also be packed. This school gig has more hurdles than I thought. Today might be a challenge, but at least it’s not my very first day of classes.
Her Tuesday classes—The Theory of sociology, the lecture portion of Beginning Newswriting, and her Brit Lit course—had gone well enough, but they were largely introductory: meet the professor, get the syllabus, go through the class requirements, get scared out of her wits—typical first-day stuff. Dr. De Souza and Professor Wallace had both assigned the students hefty reading assignments, and Dr. Wang’s reading assignment for Brit Lit intimidated her still further. Fifty pages of small-print reading from Romantic-era poets. Yikes!
Kiley knew there would always be homework—but Tuesday’s load had proved to be entirely manageable, and she could handle the quizzes and such via the university’s online platform. Today she had her first newswriting lab—connected to her journalism course. Then she’d have her second meetings with her sociology and Brit Lit classes and she’d find out how she’d done with the assigned material.
She sighed as she checked the clock on her dash. She didn’t want to be late, but she was too much of cautious driver to speed. This newswriting lab session is the big unknown in the picture. Let’s hope things go well.
She arrived on campus and touched her angel pin for luck as she began hunting for an empty parking spot. She made a mental note to give herself an extra half-hour the next time she drove to campus, construction or not. I can do this. I know I can. I just have to push a bit harder and make the most of my time.
Maybe her positivity created good karma, and maybe her angel pin helped. Or perhaps it was just a coincidence, but a car pulled out as she approached, opening a parking space. At least for today, everything is starting well.
The students from the previous class were still packing up when Nick entered his classroom—his classroom for the next ninety minutes—and took a seat in the third row. If I don’t tip my hand, I may be able to hear what the students are saying to each other before we start, get a sense of what they’re thinking, what they’re excited about, and what worries them.
A fresh group of students began to enter, but the comments he overheard were disappointing. Most of the students talked about their other classes, at least four students asked if they were in the right room, and three needed directions to the bathroom.
At five minutes before 10:00, the room was nearly full. Most of the group looked like high-school seniors, which he expected at the introductory level, but a few seemed older. One woman with gray hair cut in a spiky style reminded him a bit of his Aunt Giulia, the most stylish of all his aunts from his big Italian family. Maybe a teacher who’s coming back to update her credentials? Who knows?
At four minutes before the hour, a jock-looking guy with blond hair and a cocky attitude said, “I wonder where the prof is? Not cool to be late on the first day.” Nick bit back a smile as he listened to the murmurs of agreement.
At three minutes before the hour, Nick straightened, preparing to stand and introduce himself, when a girl rushed in. Not a girl—a woman. He had to remember that—with the rare exception of an early-admittance high schooler—all his students were adults, no matter how young they might appear or how childish they sometimes acted.
Despite her fresh appearance—creamy skin with a natural rose in her cheeks, bright green eyes, and dark, shiny hair that bounced around her shoulders as she walked—he guessed she was close to his own age just by the way she held herself. She’s definitely a looker. Then his inner voice chided—Sheesh, Santino! You’re in a classroom, not a bar! And she’s your student, not a potential date.
Nick waited to stand up and introduce himself until the woman found a seat. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as she scanned the crowded room and then made her way to the back of the class to one of the few empty desks left, next to the cocky jock. Nick took a deep breath and then stood. “Welcome, everyone,” he said as he stepped to the front of the room. “I’m Nick Santino, your instructor for Beginning Newswriting.” Nick hid a smile at the many gasps and surprised looks as his students realized he’d been there all along. “This is the lab class where you’ll be learning practical applications to the theories that Professor Wallace will cover in his theory course. You can call me Nick. Let’s get started.”
Nick launched into his prepared first-day spiel, describing how the class would work and that, sometime near the end of the term, they might win the opportunity to write and edit one issue of the campus newspaper. “We have a paid student staff that produces the regular paper, but two groups each term get a chance to produce a special edition, based on an overall average of your marks. I believe our class can do it, and I want to see you try.” He paused for emphasis. “Now,” he said. “Get ready for your first quiz.”
“Quiz?” a wide-eyed young woman who looked like a high-school junior asked. “We haven’t learned anything yet.”
Nick smiled. “You’ll be surprised how much you’ve learned. This is a smart classroom, so there’s a control box on your desk. As the questions come up on the screen, click your answer.”
The blond jock with the smart-alecky smirk asked, “No QR codes we can answer with cell phones?”
Nick kept his response even. “We aren’t quite at that level of technology yet, not in this room, anyway. Everybody ready? Let’s begin.”
He took his time, working slowly through the questions he’d prepared ahead and loaded into the system. The quiz was meant to gauge the students’ overall engagement with news media and included questions like, “Where do you get your news?” and “Check all news sources you’ve consulted within the past week.” As the last question timed out from the main screen, he said, “The computer will compile your responses and we’ll see the results at the end of this class. Right now, it’s time for your first assignment.”
He listened as the expected murmur of dissent worked its way through the group. Then he said, “Get ready to take notes. You’ll do this assignment right here, right now.” He had them divide into pairs—predictably one group ended up with three—and he told them to interview one another. He checked the wall clock before he said, “I’ll give you four minutes for person A to interview person B. Then we’ll switch and interview the other way. When both are done, you’ll stand as pairs and each of you will introduce your partner to the class.
“Get the basics: name, major, hometown—all the stuff you’d ask if you were waiting in line at the bookstore” (he waited for the chuckles),"but find out something else, too. Each of you has something about you that makes you a little different from everyone else. As an interviewer, it’s your job to find out what that is about the person you’re interviewing and make sure you mention it in your introduction. You’ll only have one minute each to make your introductions, but I want you to make it so memorable that everyone here will know you when you return next week.” He checked the clock again. “Ready? Go!”
He smiled in satisfaction as he leaned against the lectern, watching his students hustle. This is gonna be fun!
Kiley had spotted him the moment she walked into the room, made eye contact, and felt her face warming. He looks like somebody. A movie star, maybe? I suspect he could become a serious distraction. She’d found an empty desk at the back of the packed room, arranged her materials, and prepared to take notes.
Then Mr. Interesting got up and introduced himself as the teacher. Is that even fair? She sighed as she settled in to listen. I thought he’d be a distraction as a fellow student. As the professor? How can I try not to notice the professor?
On top of that, Mr. Interesting had thrown a quiz at them! As the nature of the questions became clear, Kiley began to relax and worked on learning how to use her individual control box. Smart classrooms had been around for years, but Kiley had never experienced one during her first go-round. Her years working for the school district had taught her a lot and she prided herself at being fairly savvy when it came to technology. This is fun! I could get used to taking quizzes this way. It’s like a video game, only with purpose.
She watched as the gorgeous teacher—Nick, as he introduced himself—showed them where to find the course syllabus online and how to use it. “I’m not going to work through it with you,” he’d said. “You’re university students. I will trust you to read it on your own, and you probably should, since there will likely be a quiz on the reading when I see you next week.” He winked at the students and Kiley joined the others in a light chuckle.
In fact, she chuckled several times during Nick’s opening statements. He certainly seems personable. Kiley, you’re going to have to concentrate to remember he’s your professor.
Nick described the first-day assignment and Kiley found herself being pulled in by the blond kid to her left—he was tall, with the physique of a football player, but young, maybe all of nineteen. The smart-alecky jock introduced himself as Joey Hauser, and made it plain he was taking control. I’ll work with him today, but I’ll make a point of arriving early next time and find a different place to sit.
“I’ll interview you first,” Joey announced. He peppered her with questions, some of which were far too personal—asking her if she was married, dating or single. Kiley steered her comments to her educational interests and why she was taking the newswriting class. She mentioned her father’s work as a reporter and then as the publisher of the Bedford Falls Daily Record. Kiley opened her book bag and pulled out her dad’s final issue before his retirement and talked about how he’d changed the focus of the newspaper over the years to concentrate more on hard news rather than soft community events.
Kiley had managed to snag the final two copies of the paper for her parents. They’d mailed several copies to friends and family and her dad had only one copy left in addition to a laminated version his staff had given him as part of a retirement gift. Kiley’s mom had asked her to pick up a few more copies for them to have on hand. Kiley planned to take these to her parents after her class day ended, which was the only reason she had copies with her. She wouldn’t have shown them at all if Joey hadn’t been so pushy. Her dad’s paper seemed a way to distract him.
About ten minutes later, Nick began to go around the room and ask the teams to introduce each other to the rest of the class. Kiley realized that, if anyone ran overtime, she might not even need to speak. It looks like we’ll be the last pair he calls on. She didn’t know whether to feel pleased or unhappy. But Nick kept the class moving and stopped people at the end of their minute. With fifteen minutes left in class, Nick asked her and Joey to stand.
Kiley didn’t appreciate Joey’s pushy insistence that she go first, but she let him get away with that, too. This time.
She rattled off the basics about Joey and ended the intro on a light-hearted note, adding, “Joey once rode a mechanical bull for a full six seconds and believes he may have missed his calling as a rodeo cowboy. Now, he’s aiming to take the bull by the horns with a career in journalism.” She finished off with a wink as good-natured chuckles filled the room. Glancing at Joey, she noticed his cocky smirk had been replaced by a frown.
“This lovely lady is Miss Kiley Ross,” Joey began. “She works for the school district in Bedford Falls, a.k.a. Christmas Town, and is an English major. But this is not her first rodeo…she’s back in the saddle again for one more ride…”
Kiley pasted a bland expression on her face, but inwardly cringed at Joey’s smarmy tone.
“Kiley hopes to pursue a teaching career at the high school level,” Joey went on, “which is a shame because of her family connections in journalism. Her dad was the publisher of the Daily Record in the thriving metropolis of Bedford Falls, California. She even brought show-and-tell.”
Joey reached across Kiley’s desk and grabbed the keepsake edition of the Record. Kiley whispered, “Joey, no!” and tried to grab it back, but he held it up high and waved it in the air, an action that brought a round of laughter that made Kiley’s face flame.
“May I take a look at the paper for a moment?” Nick asked.
“Of course,” she answered, embarrassed by how tiny her voice sounded, and even more by how small she felt. Joey had gone too far. He’d clearly set out to embarrass her.
Nick held the paper under his arm as the class went through the results of the survey quiz. As it turned out, most of the students got their news from the internet. Radio and TV news came in a distant second, but only three of the students, including Kiley, mentioned reading newspapers.
Nick talked about several of the most popular online news outlets and how social media was replacing the newspaper as the general public’s primary news conduit. As he concluded, Nick held up Kiley’s keepsake. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I give you a relic of the twentieth century.” Then he ripped the front section in half and tossed the pieces. “Totally out of date.”
Kiley gasped, and the whole class looked at her—some with sympathy, some with confusion.
“We’ll talk more about why next time,” Nick added. He gave them a reading assignment—in addition to the syllabus—and dismissed the class.
Nick picked up the pieces of torn paper and piled them on the podium.
Kiley touched her angel, hoping she could remain calm. Without speaking, she picked up the loose sheets, folded them carefully and put them into her book bag. Then, with a poisonous look at her instructor, she headed for the door.
She almost decided not to turn. Then she remembered that, some sixteen weeks from now, this man would assign her a grade. She turned. “Yes?”
“Don’t take it personally,” he said. “The newspaper really is dead.”
She gave him a glare and bit off a scathing reply. Spinning on her heel she marched out of the classroom, practically breaking into a run in the hallway. I have to find out if there’s another lab session that meets on Thursday afternoons. She reached an outside bench, took a seat in the shade, and began looking through the class catalog on her cell phone, flipping through the Thursday sections, but finding nothing open.
What a disaster! First, she was stuck with smarmy Joey as her interview partner. Then she was subjected to her instructor’s egotistical antics as he tore the newspaper in half. Worst of all, she only had one copy left to give her dad.
Kiley wasn’t able to make the lab change online, so she decided to take her problem to the department office. Maybe someone there could give her permission to overload another news lab section.
She hadn’t quite reached the turn at the end of the walkway when Joey caught her arm. “Hey, partner. Are you busy tonight?” His smile was ingratiating, or for Kiley, simply grating.
He was the last person she wanted to see, and she was frankly surprised Joey had even sought her out, given their exchange in class.
“As a matter of fact, I am busy.” She started walking away but stopped and turned back. “And Joey? Please don’t ask again. I don’t think we’d be well-suited.”