I really don't know if I'm to continue this story, but for some reason I keep going back to it. Happy reading (and please excuse the grammar)
Eva hadn't really thought of the Computer and Tech meeting that she was to attend this morning. Yesterday, on passing, Mr. Peeks had insisted that she attend, his reasoning being that she could provide some first-hand data and suggestions. She agreed without a second's thought, flattered by his willingness to have her around. It was not until the following morning, when she stood by the black, looming gates of the Institute, looking dazedly at the campus within, that her stomach had turned to knots. She glanced down at her wrist-watch, it was 7:27 am, and her meeting was in three. She had three minutes to get to the other side of the campus.
Snugged up in semi-winter gear, she made her way forward, the high gate swinging open automatically for her to pass. The air was chilly, and a small breeze laced through the aged-brick buildings of the Institute. She passed the Astro department, its walls high and the roof dome-shaped. Past the Microbiology department, Physics department, Chemical Engineering department, all as bland and unassuming as the other, and whereupon she set her sight to the ground to protect her eyes from the dry wind. Finally, Eva arrived at the Immunology department, and her stomach almost heaved. 7.29 am.
The Immunology department was also a brick building. Unlike the others, however, it was made from a darker coloured brick, not as dark as charcoal but lighter, and they were granite. With moss growing in between the crevices like a meshwork of green and the unstoppable rain of South England, the Immunology department looked more like an abandoned buttress of a haunted, fearsome castle. But to the well-trained eye, this building was not as rustic as it all looked at first glance: security cameras were hidden amongst the foliage that partially covered some of the walls, and despite the unfriendly facade, the place was quite hospitable.
Why was she this nervous? Perhaps she felt ill at ease because she hadn't been here long enough to deserve such attention, and that the privilege of speaking among the academics was too overwhelming, even for her. But Eva didn't really think that that was the whole truth of it. No, something else was tugging at her mind, making her stomach churn like a cement mixer.
Professor Frederick Thorne. She had embarrassed herself entirely! Of course, in the past couple of days since their last meeting, she had been thinking about him. But he was just a new subject to occupy her thoughts. And those thoughts were nothing of the sort that were, right now, occupying most of the female populus at this Institute. Not like Jocelyn, who was evidently a jealous person and insanely in love with the professor. Eva couldn't really fathom their regard for Thorne, he was just so grouchy and rude.
But still! To think that she had mistaken him for a student. Eva did not want to meet him again. She already felt stupid, and she hated that. He was more than likely to reject her X application, considering that she almost threatened to destroy his lab work. No, he probably wouldn't even allow her within ten yards from his door. That's why she didn't want to meet him again, and that's why she was chiding herself about agreeing to go to a meeting where he may or may not be present.
And the worst part, she felt, was that she cared what he thought about her. The professor was a stranger and he didn't care about anyone. Well, that was the general consensus according to Paul. So, why would she bother about his opinion? It was completely irrational and immature.
"Okay. Let's do this," Eva sucked in some air, walked up the ten steps to the glass door and entered the building.
She was to meet at them at the courtyard, which was, essentially, the teacher's lounge. It was a rare for a student to be invited to the courtyard, for it was quite lovely there and students were rarely permitted anything lovely. It was on second level and it was already 7.30 am. It wouldn't look good for her if she was late, and Eva didn't want to disappoint Mr. Peeks.
Eva ran past the reception area, where the reputably snotty and bad-tempered Mrs Smith was setting up. Eva glanced at her over her shoulder while she waited for the elevator to ping to her level, and it surprised her to find Mrs Smith staring at her. It was an icy glare, a suspicious contorting of her brow. She was a pudgy lady, who wore pearls everyday and ringlets in her hair. But she was not sweet, and Eva wondered why they hired Mrs Smith to great visitors and interact with the Government when they came by, which was often. But Eva smiled at her nonetheless, and she received in return a click of the tongue.
Eva glanced at her watch as she pressed the level two button of the elevator. 15 seconds to 7.31 am. Her stomach was now a mess, and her heart had decided to run a marathon. What if he was there? That arrogant, smug bastard who couldn't even introduce himself! Her disdain for him was unfounded, she admitted to herself. Perhaps he couldn't help who he was? But she didn't know that much about him to make excuses for him, so her contempt remained with her as the elevator pinged to level two and she got out and made her way to the courtyard.
Eva could see them at a distance, the assembly of academics of the Immonology department. Some of them she even recognized – Professor Phillips was there, talking to Mr Peeks with wild gestures, Suzanne from the Laboratory, Professor Lambert (who she knew now wasn't Professor Thorne), and was that? He looked like the man who had interrupted, thankfully, the arm wrestle she and Professor Thorne were having the day she visited his lab. She wanted to destroy his lab work, and she cringed at how immature and emotional she had been.
There was no sign of Professor Thorne, and Eva breathed a sigh of relief. She would have run away if he had been there, undoubtedly. Eva approached them with more confidence, and when the glass door had opened to allow her through and she had stepped into the courtyard, she felt excited and honoured to be there.
Mr Peaks abandoned the conversation he was having with Phillips, and skipped over to her, "Eva! Brilliant! So glad you made it. We've been waiting for you."
"I do hope that you haven't been stalling this meeting for my sake?" Eva said, timidly.
"Oh, no! Not at all," Mr Peek enthused, to which Eva frowned, "Oh, you got me. Well, if it makes you feel any better, you're not the only one who is late."
"Oh?" Eva choked.
"Yes, well. Professor Thorne does have a tendency to be late. I'm sure you know him?"
Eva nodded slightly, but her smile faltered. Mr Peeks did not notice, however, for he was calling someone over to them.
"Bolger! Bolger!" He yelled, and the man who Eva had recognized, but did not know the name of, had sauntered over, the steam from his coffee wafting behind him.
"Yes, Sir?" He said, and then peered at Eva, "Oh! Ha! Why, fancy seeing you here?"
"Bolger, is it?" She offered her hand, and he took it with delight.
"Yes, I am Professor Jarred Bolger, majoring in Probability and Statistical assessment. And you are, my dear?"
"Eva White, no credentials as of yet."
Both Bolger and Mr Peeks chuckled.
"Miss White here has been asked here today to give a student's perspective of the current Computer and Tech course, and how it can be improved. After all, that's why we are here today, aren't we? Now Bolger, where is Professor Thorne?" Mr Peeks said, crossing his arms over his chest.
"I woke him up this morning, but his head seemed glued to the table," Bolger dejected his eyes to his coffee, "He said he'll show."
"Right. Oh, we'll just proceed without him then," Mr Peeks turned and started calling everyone to the meeting table, which was made up of three small tables pushed together to form a rectangle.
"Now, tell me Miss White. What did you think of my friend?" Bolger said, waiting next to her for the other academics to settle in their seats before they followed.
Professor Bolger seemed charming and genuine. His face was an honest face, and she felt in his eyes a certain loneliness. At his age, she would expect him to be married. But there was no wedding ring on his finger.
"Freddie. I mean of course Professor Thorne. You were in his lab the other day, as I recall. That was a very rare find, I was so shocked! Usually he never lets anyone in his lab, except for me and Mr. Peeks, naturally."
"That is not exactly what happened," Eva smiled at him, "Indeed, I was not invited in. I kind of...imposed on him."
"Imposed? How so? He is not someone that is easily intimidated..." Bolger was curious, his eyes sparkling with interest.
Eva grinned, "Well. I snuck in, because the door was unlocked and no one was answering after I had knocked a number of times. I thought I should just check if anyone was in there, because I was dropping off my X application. I suppose it was a breach of privacy, but never mind. He discovered me there and we..."
"Ah! So you are the person! My friend has been in a bad mood lately, forgive him. He is just so busy with his project and the Head have shoved more workload on him. And that is including the X-course."
"What do you mean?" She asked, confused.
"Oh, he has to accept you, my dear. The Head have decided so."
Eva felt a surge of anger, and she couldn't hold her emotions back anymore, "But! He is just so rude! Ididn't think he'd accept me, nor did I have any plan of taking up his offer even if he did. He doesn't like me at all, and I suspect he might even loathe me."
Bolger chuckled, "He doesn't hate you. He hates everyone. Don't let it bother you. Really, he is a nice guy."
"I doubt it, even if he is your friend," Eva muttered.
"I doubt it, too," came a voice from behind them.
Eva froze. Bolger had turned around.
"Ah, Freddie! So you've resurfaced. Good to see you using your legs."
"They do their job well enough," Thorne conceded in an unenthusiastic tone.
Despite the shame that coloured her cheeks and the impossible acrobatics of her stomach, Eva turned towards him. She wasn't going to let him intimidate her. Of course she was his inferior, she knew that now, but that didn't mean she was to be looked down upon because of it. Keep your head up, as they say.
Frederick Thorne wasn't looking at her, as she was inclined to have thought. No, he was looking elsewhere. At Mr Peeks across the way. His eyes were hazy moons shrouded in the darkness that was his brow, and the tie that he attempted to wear hung haphazardly around his neck. Eva was almost convinced that he had just come out of a pub fight, or something, based on his appearance and obviously dark mood.
"Frederick! So you have come at last," Mr Peeks noticed him across the table, at which he had settled himself at the head.
"Permission for coffee, Sir?"
"Yes, that's fine. You look like you need it," Mr Peeks answered.
"Need a shower, that is," said Mr Lambert, whom, until now, Eva had forgotten was here.
He was wearing his typical suit, with his hair oiled back and a clean-shaven face. He was seated next to Mr Peeks, both his hands poised on the table next to his papers. He was gazing at Professor Thorne with a smirk on his face. She thought that he looked rather conniving, like a weasel. And he was probably the cleanest person here. Eva looked back at Thorne, but his expression was incomprehensible. The only sign of irritation was his sneer, and she reflexively stepped back at the sound of it. His gaze fell on her, as if he hadn't noticed her until now and his expression changed to one of confusion.
"Good. Morning," she said to him, rather robotically.
He blinked once and glanced at Bolger, who continued to smile at him, before returning his eyes back to her. He was probably thinking of some way to be rude to her.
"I wonder, are you following me?" he said.
Eva was astonished, and proceeded to narrow her eyes at him when she recovered a little, "I suppose you mean 'stalking' you? But no, I'm not."
"Seems to me like you are," he said, casually, like it was obvious.
Bogler decided to pep up, "Well, Freddie. Mr Peeks did invite her to this meeting."
Thorne's expression did not change, but he stood there for a moment longer and then strode off, in the direction of the coffee maker.
She watched his back as he retreated from the group. She was directed to her seat and Bolger sat next to her. Eva watched out of her periphery the interaction between Thorne and the woman attending the coffee stall. They seemed on good terms; the woman even reached across the register and fixed the tie around his neck. When Mr Peeks began the meeting, she snapped out of it and decided to do what she was there to do, despite her growing resentment for that smug bastard who had the nerve to call her a stalker. She was not like Jocelyn!
Mr Peeks began by clearing his throat, "Good morning, everyone. As you all should know, the purpose of this meeting is to revise the current Computer and Tech course. You will all have heard of Professor Lindemann's dismissal, but rest assured he will be returning in the near future. Until then, we are planning on improving things while he is away. Now, I have given you all a printout of the current outline of the course. It is my understanding that most of you have read it, but this is merely to provide you with a reference should you need it."
There was a general shuffling of papers around the table as some of the academics thumbed through the pages. Eva left hers alone.
"Now then, I have asked someone to come along to this meeting who I believe is able shed some light on, firstly, some of the problems with the current course. She is a first year student, so please be kind. Miss Eva White," Mr Peeks nodded in her direction, and she felt a dozen eyes pin her to the chair.
"Uh..." she began weakly, but continued with more vigour, "I think we really need to revise what is actually taught in the course, when it is taught and how."
"What do you mean, Miss White?" Lambert smiled at her, his tone in earnest.
"The current course outline is quite messy. There seems to be no follow-on between lectures, and there is quite a hazy link between the lecture material and the lab work. For example, it wouldn't do for one to learn about data networks in one lecture and then all of the sudden we are analysing chip make-up in the lab. And the lectures, themselves, are brief and superficial. Of course I'm not expecting novels of reading material, but something more...substantial."
"So, what did I miss?" Professor Thorne said, mockingly Eva thought, as he returned to the meeting table with a coffee in his hands and took the seat on Bolger's right.
Eva gave him an annoyed look, "I don't suppose many of you think that this course is important enough to warrant much thought. But indeed this course is meant to provide the basis for understanding the System, which I remind you is an integral pre-requisite for graduation and potential employment under this office, and to me... it looks like most first years are still not learning the skills required to even allow general access."
"Well said, Miss White. Now, what do you propose we do first?" Mr Peeks chimed in, quite enthralled by her words.
"Expect her to have all the answers, I guess," Thorne whispered to Bolger.
Bolger stifled a chuckle when Eva had glanced their way, she having missed nothing of Thorne's words. Eva eyed Professor Thorne for a long moment, irritated by how he was interrupting the meeting by his unhelpful remarks. She observed the half-upturned corner of his lips that made his smirk, at the unprofessional appearance of his person, and at his unflinching eyes as they peered back at her – it was enough to make her put up a retaliation.
"No, I agree. I don't have all the answers, as Professor Thorne has just implied," Eva teared her attention away from him and addressed Mr Peeks directly, "But since he is reputed to have the sense of a million textbooks, I wonder, would he like to share his opinion on the subject? After all, he is always well-advised."
Eva glanced to her right again, and smiled brilliantly at the Professor. He merely frowned at her and turned to address the congregation.
"Miss White here seems to have exaggerated," said Thorne, taking a contemplative sip of his coffee, "A million textbooks is a fair assumption, I give her that much. But well-advised? I haven't heard good advice in, say, the last ten years."
Nobody could have missed the look he gave to Lambert, one which was reciprocated with an uncharacteristic fit, "You do well to mind your manners, boy. May I remind you of whom was the one promoted, who guided your ungrateful behind for four years, who is –"
"Stupid?" Thorne offered.
Bolger, Phillips and some of the women at the table snickered behind their hands, pens and papers. Lambert snapped, and stood, abandoning his poised demeanour.
"Mr Peeks, see the immaturity of this boy! I advise you to fire him! Let him go to Matone! Let him be their problem instead of ours!"
"Calm down, Professor Lambert," Mr Peeks placed a hand on his shoulder, at which point Lambert stopped suddenly, as if he realized that he had taken Thorne's bait and was wriggling on the end of a fishing line like a doomed fish.
Lambert slowly took to his seat, his hand sliding over his hair to adjust for any misplaced strands that his outburst may have caused. He adjusted the tie around his neck and cleared his throat, and fixed his eyes on the table in front of him.
Eva was stunned. The others, it seemed, were not. Bolger seemed unfazed and perhaps looked even a little bored, and a cursory glance at Professor Thorne told her that he was amused.
"Okay. So we were getting a bit off-topic there. Professor Thorne, despite being assigned Assistant Lecturer, I see no reason for you to stay. I'm sure Bolger would fill you in at a later date," Mr Peeks said, sighing most of his words.
"Thank you, Sir," Thorne stood up then, bowing his head slightly in gratitude, and pushed his chair backwards.
"See ya, mate," he patted Bolger on the back, took two steps but backed on his heel, "and thank you, too, Miss White."
Eva gaped as she watched him turn around and walk out of the courtyard, a grin on his face and the light stride of an easy escape.
Freddie almost made it out of the meeting without any repercussions. He had got into the elevator quickly enough, and hit the Level Three button and watched the doors slide close with a sense of victory. But the doors didn't close completely, for a pale, feminine hand had stretched into the elevator and the doors pinged open again to reveal a woman, specifically Miss Eva White, staring up at him, her expression quite forbidding.
Freddie assumed a nonchalant expression and leaned back against the right wall. He watched as Eva White step lightly into the elevator and claim the opposite wall. Her auburn, wavy hair bobbed as she walked, as if they were attached to springs, and the perfume she wore reminded him of dried sprigs of lavender. The woman spoke first.
"Professor Thorne," she crossed he arms over her abdomen, a gesture of irritation.
"So you are following me," he said simply, then arched his brow, "how very original."
"Do not make the mistake that I am following you because you are... whatever. Believe me, that is the farthest thing from my mind," she seethed, the corner of her lips tightening, creating a dimple in her right cheek, "I have followed you because I wish to talk to you."
"Firstly," she stammered a little, her eyes deflecting to the ground before meeting his face again, "I wanted to apologize for having mistaken you for a student."
Freddie was unsure of her sincerity, not that he cared for apologies. She still looked angry, but something in her voice told him that she was both embarrassed and upset at her mistake. A true, proud women she was.
"You are forgiven."
She looked up at him incredulously, but didn't say anything further on the subject.
"Your friend, Professor Bolger, told me not long ago that you intend to accept me for the X-course," she said.
There was a silence. Freddie supposed she wanted him to comment on what she had just said; a confirmation or a declination, he didn't know. The truth was that he had to accept her, the Head had demanded it. He wasn't sure how he felt about this. Sure, he didn't like the idea of having to waste his time and that he had a bad experience with the X-course and vowed never to enter into such an arrangement again. But he thought it wouldn't be too terrible, now, considering he wasn't as much of an asshole as Lambert was, and accepting her might be an act of compassion if she had also made an application to Professor Lambert.
"Yes," was his only reply.
She stared at him, but Freddie couldn't read her. When the elevator pinged to Level Three, he nodded at her before walking out.
"May I ask why you have come to this decision?"
Freddie glanced over his shoulder. Eva White was right on his heel.
"Because you are most annoying."
"I'm flattered, but I doubt I am the most annoying, considering there is practically a committee of dedicated girls whose apple is you."
Freddie stopped, he was only a few metres away from his lab, and turned to address her properly. She almost ran into him, his coffee nearly spilt.
"Of which you are wholly not involved?" he inclined his head sideways, then frowned as she came closer to him, close enough that he smelt lavender again.
He glanced behind her – some of the people passing by stole a glance at them, perhaps what was going on.
"Why is it that you have decided to accept me?" Eva White asked the question again, this time firmly.
This woman was a force to be reckoned with it. Stubborn as hell, she held his gaze with a ferocity that might have scared him if it were not for the delicate features of her face: from her button nose to the point of her ears, from her doll-like lips to her big, green eyes that were curtained with long, dark eyelashes. She could never look frightening, even if she tried.
"You are possibly the most unrelenting woman I have encountered," he told her, "and that's saying something. But if you really want to know, I have accepted you because I have to."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you want me to be honest?"
She peered up at him, hesitating, "Yes."
"Despite your penchant for annoying the hell out of me, you seem smart. You're mildly attractive, but I am not supposed to say that because I am your superior, but you won't have to worry about me pining after you. That's for certain. Moreover, you also seem to dislike me, which is a sentiment that I will make no effort to alter, and it is quite refreshing to be frank. The Head have ordered me to take up a student under my tutelage, and you will do just fine."
Freddie watched her face change as he spoke, and he was mutely surprised that she ended up smiling up at him. She then took a step away, out of his personal space.
"Well, I appreciate the honesty," Eva White paused, "I will come by later to sort out the details then. Thank you for having me."
She held out her hand for him. He placed in her hand his coffee, which had cooled too much for him to finish.
"No. Thank you, Miss White," he said, gesturing a goodbye, and turned towards his lab, awaiting work that needed to be done.