And there she was, late twenties, looking a little uncomfortable in her black cocktail dress, her hair pulled into a floppy bun which in itself looked like the hair relaxing itself
And there she was, late twenties, looking a little uncomfortable in her black cocktail dress, her hair pulled into a floppy bun which in itself looked like the hair relaxing itself. She was knocking back cocktails like a first-time drinker or someone in the midst of a midlife crisis. Her plastic-framed glasses, black visible on the outside, light but not subdued green on the inside just like the way she saw herself; on the outside, she was the face of seriousness, a literature professor. On the inside she could just be.
Her face held an uncomfortable smile that said hello, oh yes it's nice to meet you. I have no fucking clue who you are, so please get out of my face since your breath smells like radishes. On occasion, the expression changed to please, either give me a reason to stay at this social-torture of a party or keep drowning in drinks until it's late enough for a speedy getaway to be permissible.
By the look of her you could tell that she was more comfortable among characters than among people. You could also tell by the way she was beginning to look dizzy that she usually didn't drink this much. Catching herself on the edge of sobriety, she set down her drink and refused to have any more that night. She vowed she'd make it through the night of talking to people she'd only met once but was supposed to recognize, even if it meant striking up a conversation about literary devices.
She was still debating in her head which was worse—spending the evening at this party or the entire batch of English 101 papers waiting on her ottoman for her to grade. After tonight, she thought, she'd break out the red pen instead of the much-friendlier green one. After tonight, those papers would be bleeding.
I caught her watching the clock, her eyes darting back and forth about every nineteen seconds. I hadn't much in confidence myself, but next to her I must have seemed like a professional actress. I sauntered up to her, bridging the gap between her and a forty-something thrice-married lawyer looking surreptitiously at the lack of adornment on her left hand.
"Oh, Mr. Jensen," I said, hoping to G-d that was his last name.
"Johnson," he corrected, smiling as he stuck out his hand to shake mine, a little overly friendly.
"Yes, excuse me. I've been setting so many place cards for the host tonight that I've lost track of whose name is whose. Allow me to introduce you to—"
"Catherine," she said, smiling thankfully at me as I clasped an arm around her bare shoulders.
"Well, Catherine, I'm off for more drinks," he said as he skulked away toward the bar, smile a bit overdone but generally harmless if you had half a brain cell to know he was out for what his type was likely to call a 'piece of meat.'
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," she said. "I never thought I was going to get away from him. He's got a little too obvious of a come-on, and a little to oblivious to the word no."
"No problem," I said, releasing her shoulders. She was warm to the touch. "I remember him from last year. He's somewhat of a sleazy fellow. Charming, though."
"Charming? Oh, and it's not like I didn't expect you to come sauntering over here like you own the party, perhaps even calling me 'old sport' or something."
"What is it, exactly, that you do, Catherine?"
"I'm a first-year literature professor at MidState. I get to teach all the freshman-I-don't-know-what-a-comma-is literature students and, hopefully, either teach them some discernable shreds of grammar or get moved up to English 104. It's a grading nightmare. And what do you do…uh…?"
"Andi," I replied. "I'm a Northwestern Biology grad who should have majored in music. As of right now, it's either continue working doing pheromone research or become a starving artist. I used to be a piano player, but I was told I had to get a 'real job.'"
"I see…" she said. "That's sad, though. I'm sure you were an amazing piano player. Would you—nevermind." She reddened and changed the subject. "Northwestern, huh? You must be a book person too."
"I…I guess…yeah, I am," I replied, a little sheepishly. To tell you the truth, the last book I'd read was sappy. Really sappy. Ok, the last few books I'd read were sappy. More than I'd like to admit.
"Oh, so what was the last book you read?" She was going into full-scale literature mode, and it was beginning to scare me. I rummaged mentally through the past few books that had been on my nightstand. Nothing worth saying aloud, especially not to a literature professor. Especially not with titles like "Reckless Beauty" and "Scarlet Hearts." Especially not "All's Fair in Love and War. Cliché, I know. In its defence, it was a good story.
"'Brave New World,'" I said. It was a long time ago, but I was sure I'd read it and hoped she'd end the conversation here.
She didn't. "Oh, a dystopian literature fan we have here. Have you read 1984?"
I shook my head no.
"A Clockwork Orange?"
More head shaking.
Her voice went up in pitch at the end in disbelief. She was making me nervous, my stomach getting butterflies every second longer this conversation ticked on. Normal people didn't make me this nervous, but it had been obvious to me since the beginning that this wasn't a normal woman.
Any more head shaking and I was going to become carsick.
"Then…what HAVE you read? What's your favourite BOOK?" She inquired, exasperated.
I didn't want to admit it, but what choice did I have? There was one book I could admit to that would, perhaps, save my dignity, but still it was sappier than I'd have liked to admit.
"Wuthering Heights has been my favourite since high school," I said in a rather hushed voice.
"Quote it." Her words were short, punchy. She didn't believe me.
"'Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, G-d! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!'" I muttered, from memory. Those lines. The lines I had memorized long ago. The urge to continue on in the passage was driving almost as mad as she was, there in her little black dress, now feeling superior. It was like Hot for Teacher all over again.
"See," I whispered. "I know some books, they're all just…romances."
"And can you play the piano too, or were you just trying to impress me?" she said, irritation diminishing but still present.
"No, I can actually do that."
She pointed over to the glossy black grand piano sitting in the corner of the room, serving as a drink holder for vastly too many half-finished glasses. Luckily it had been furnished with coasters.
"What? You can't play? Are you just a liar, then?"
"No…just…all these people here. I can't play in front of them. Besides, I haven't practiced in years. My fingers are WAY out of shape."
"Oh just do it. Play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or something. Do something outside your little biology-research-romance-novel box, for once." She was getting irritated.
I had to. I remembered just a little of the first movement of the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto. I set my hands down on the keys. They remembered the movement better than I did, and the party instantly quieted at the sound of my music. They were spellbound until about the middle of the movement, when heads turned back to their conversations and it was just her, listening to me play.
I played the last chord and hopped up from the bench, with very few people noticing and scattered applause. I headed briskly toward the door and she followed me.
"Well, so I guess you can play," she said in bewildered disbelief. "Where are you going? Stay. We've at least found some common ground we can talk about…"
I turned back and looked at her. I grabbed her wrist. "Come on. Come with me."
"Where are we going? I've never gone home with someone from a party before. What are you planning on doing? Coffee? Your apartment? What is this—"
I placed my palm lightly over her mouth.
"Come on," I said. "Do something outside your little English-professor box, for once."
A/N: This was written off of a writing prompt "Someone who's constantly quoting classic novels meets a literature professor at a cocktail party." I just free-wrote this, so as of right now there may be errors in coherency/proofing. Have fun :D
Yes, Andi's gender is supposed to be ambiguous. Andi's whoever you want him/her to be.